Greenpeace Warns SA of Flaws in French Nuclear Design

Feature story - May 3, 2011
As major safety concerns are identified in the French nuclear reactor design, we call on the South African government to rethink its nuclear expansion plans and collaboration with the French nuclear industry.

This call from Greenpeace Africa comes as 55 Greenpeace activitists began blocking the construction of a new nuclear reactor in Flamville, France, yesterday.

Greenpeace is demanding a moratorium on the construction of this reactor after the French nuclear safety authority outlined major safety flaws of the design of the European Pressurised Reactor (EPR), following the nuclear disaster in Fukushima, Japan.

Nuclear in South Africa

Greenpeace Halts Flamanville Nuclear Reactor Construction

"Safe nuclear doesn't exist" -- the message on the Tshirt of the Greenpeace activist here. She was one of 55 activists who halted construction at the site of the proposed new European Pressurized Water Reactor (EPR). Activists blocked the entrance to the site with a truck and also occupied cranes, demanding an immediate end to construction at Flamanville in France. © Nicolas Chauveau / Greenpeace

The South African government intends to invest in new nuclear reactors, possibly from the EPR design. Greenpeace Africa warns SA not to follow France into the dangerous trap of nuclear energy, but instead learn from France's nuclear failures and invest in this country’s renewable energy industry.

At the Flamanville reactor site, Greenpeace activists anchored two trucks to the ground blockading the entrance. Some activists also scaled three cranes, impeding further construction work at the site.

"The accident in Japan demands a reassessment of all nuclear safety, and the first thing to do is stop construction of new reactors,” says Greenpeace’s energy campaigner Rianne Teule. “South Africa should take Fukushima as a stark warning and decide not to take these risks by leading the way in a transition to clean energy solutions.”

The EPR Design

The EPR is promoted by the French nuclear industry as flagship of a new generation of reactors, but none are currently in operation. Two projects are underway in Europe, one in Finland and one in France. They have both been struggling with thousands of technical and safety problems, delays and cost overruns.

The EPR was designed drawing lessons from Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. Now the Fukushima accident also needs to be taken into account, which challenges the very basis of its design. Problems include vital dependence on continuous power supply to cool the reactors, risk of hydrogen explosion, location of backup diesel generators close to ground and thus susceptible to flooding, pools with spent fuel located outside of protective containment, and the close vicinity of the control room to the reactor which could make it inaccessible in case of large radiation release.

"Nuclear safety doesn´t exist. As we have seen most recently in Japan, the technology is too complex and vulnerable to a deadly mix of human error, technology failures and natural disaster,” added Rianne Teule.

“Thankfully, South Africa has a choice to act now. The government should drop all nuclear power from the IRP2010 and increase its ambitions on energy efficiency and renewable energy. South Africa has some of the best renewable energy resources in the world, offering immediate opportunities to create major benefits for its people, its economy and the climate.”