French newspapers today revealed that the new French EPR reactor being built in Flamanville is at least nine months behind schedule. Problems can surely occur on big projects, but the bad news for EPR is that its construction started only last December… exactly nine months ago! They have not only delayed in delivering the project, they had so many failures that they have created extra work adding up to nine months. Back to square one, Areva!
It is always frustrating to find yourself back at the starting point after trying hard to advance, but this is what the French nuclear industry may only dream of now. Because they already spent so much money many things cannot be undone meaning the chronic troubles with poor concrete and bad welds will jeopardize the project. If it continues of course.
This is not the first time we have seen situations like this. Actually the very same – a nine-month delay announced after nine months of construction – happened two years ago at the first EPR reactor construction in Olkiluoto, Finland. Since then, the delays have grown to more than two years and the budget inflated by more than 2 billion Euros (and construction is even halfway completed yet).
The EPR design is being promoted by industry and President Sarkozy as a flagship of the ‘nuclear renaissance’ with promises of an improved, safer, cheaper and more reliable reactor for the next generation. You would have thought that after its fiasco in Finland, Areva would be doing its best to improve its reputation and avoiding repeating the same mistakes while building a second EPR in its homeland.
Despite knowing its dark record in the past, I thought so. But I was mistaken. On both EPR sites in Finland and France, there is growing pile of identical problems with poor and cracking concrete, bad welding violating required standards, and poor containment handling. On both sides, we can observe incompetent management unable to improve things.
We have only two explanations for this. Either the nuclear industry arrogantly believes that the standards are just formalities and reactors are safe enough and that it has sufficient political backing to sell the reactors across the world. Perhaps Ann Lauvergnon, the CEO of Areva that builds the EPR reactor, thinks that, as in the movie Eternal Sunshine of Spotless Mind, she can just hire company like Lacuna Inc. to wipe Joel’s and our memories of the past accidents and failures – and honestly, the massive PR campaign is doing its best to do this job.
The second possibility is that the nuclear industry is simply impotent and lacks the expertise to do things properly, orderly and according to safety regulations. The situations in France and Finland show that it’s trapped at the bottom learning curve. Maybe the memory wiping machine screwed up again and deleted the brains of the French nuclear builders so they have to repeat their lives once again.
Both options scare me. Either way, the nuclear industry remains as hazardous, deceiving and costly as it has been in past five decades. It therefore has no role to play in future. And as the Energy Revolution scenario developed by leading experts shows, there are proven and clean solutions to world’s energy needs and climate protection, based on renewable energy and energy efficiency. All we need is to make the right and informed choice with our memories intact.
(This is a guest post by Jan Beránek, nuclear campaigner for Greenpeace International.)