As we’ve discussed before, there are two questions asked about building a nuclear reactor – ‘How much will it cost?’ and ‘When will it be operational?’- to which there is only one, honest reply: ‘I’ll tell you when it’s finished.’

This week, however, lumbering French nuclear ogre AREVA added a third question to the list: ‘What will the design look like?’…

In an unprecedented step, the UK nuclear safety regulator (HSE’s ND), the French nuclear regulator (ASN), and the Finnish nuclear regulator (STUK) released a joint statement on their respective evaluations of the design of AREVA’s shiny all-singing, all-dancing state-of-the-art third generation EPR Pressurised Water Reactor. You see, all three have discovered the same problem with the reactor’s design…

The issue is primarily around ensuring the adequacy of the safety systems (those used to maintain control of the plant if it goes outside normal conditions), and their independence from the control systems (those used to operate the plant under normal conditions).

Independence is important because, if a safety system provides protection against the failure of a control system, then they should not fail together. The EPR design, as originally proposed by the licensees and the manufacturer, AREVA, doesn’t comply with the independence principle, as there is a very high degree of complex interconnectivity between the control and safety systems.

In short: the EPR’s safety system isn’t independent from its control system. The safety system is there, in case the control system fails, to prevent catastrophic accidents. In EPR’s case, if the control system fails, the currently non-independent safety system could fail as well. And AREVA wants to sell the EPR all over the world.

Needless to say, AREVA responded with an awesome piece of denial, spin and downright fantasy

The safety of the EPR™ reactor has not been called into question…

Really? So clearly ‘The issue is primarily around ensuring the adequacy of the safety systems’ and ‘The EPR design… doesn’t comply with the independence principle’ actually means ‘there’s nothing to worry about’. Silly us. Need we remind you that the OL3 EPR reactor in Olkiluoto, Finland has been under construction since 2004, the EPR at Flamanville, France has been under construction since 2006. And there are still questions about the ‘adequacy’ of the EPR’s safety systems.

AREVA then move straight to the fantasy

The EPR™ reactor is currently the most powerful reactor in the world...

(No it isn’t – it hasn’t been built yet.)

AREVA guarantees the safety of its reactor…

(It could guarantee snow in Summer but that wouldn’t make it any more likely. AREVA can make as many guarantees as it likes but what will those guarantees be worth after a major accident? Can you clean up nuclear contamination with a guarantee? Figures vary as to the cost of the Chernobyl disaster but a quarter of a trillion dollars is a conservative estimate. Does AREVA have that kind of money? It will be governments and taxpayers who will be paying for any clean-up.)

So what does this mean? What it always does: more cost, more delays, more uncertainty, more spin, more fantasy, and more distraction from the fight against climate change. It means more of the same from AREVA and those who support them.