Reactor construction at Olkiluoto 3

Reactor construction at Olkiluoto 3

(© Greenpeace/Nick Cobbing)

Documents seen by Greenpeace show that French company Areva is failing to implement vital safety procedures in the troubled construction of its prototype European Pressurized Water Reactor (EPR) in Olkiluoto, Finland. As well as being 2-3 years behind schedule, 70 per cent over budget, and experiencing 1,500 construction defects along with a damaging fire, the reactor’s safety cannot be guaranteed.

The documents show that, during the construction of the steel framework in the base of the the world's largest nuclear reactor, welders had no specifications as to how the welding should be properly performed for an entire year and, furthermore, tests to ensure the quality of the welding have not been carried out.

Bouygues, an Areva sub-contractor, has had no qualified welding supervisors at the site for over a year and still does not have any. Staff are given a mere two weeks’ training instead of having the international standard university degree. The company also listed people who had not worked in the role as welding supervisors.

Areva, the Finnish nuclear safety authority STUK, and the country’s electricity generator TVO have all been aware of these problems and yet the necessary vital safeguards have not been implemented. Poor welding could cause or exacerbate a nuclear accident – both the reactor cooling system and the reactor itself are mounted on the steel framework. If this is how the construction has proceeded so far, what can we expect when it comes to the installation of reactor components or electronic safety systems?

Nuclear safety expert Dr Helmut Hirsch states that there is a ‘bad safety culture’ at the Olkiluoto 3 site, calling into question the durability of the steel structure and its ability to withstand electrochemical corrosion.

Parts of Olkiluoto 3 affected by the violations

Parts of Olkiluoto 3 affected by the violations

To make matters worse, this is history repeating itself. Lessons have not been learned. Inspections on the construction of the other EPR at Flamanville in France found that a quarter of the welding in the reactor’s steel lining was substandard. Cracks were also found in the reactor’s concrete base. When the problem was discovered, it was sub-contractor Bouygues again at the root of the shortcomings and construction was halted by French nuclear watchdog ASN.

How has all this happened? It looks as if these potentially catastrophic shortcomings in Finland have arisen from the parties seeking to cut corners on rocketing construction costs. Quality standards agreed in contracts between Areva and TVO are poor. Contractual requirements for the competence of welding staff look to have been breached. STUK and TVO have failed to deal with safety violations. TVO has also failed to use sanctions such as stopping construction so that failures could be addressed. It all adds up to a recipe for disaster.

It is clear that there can be little public confidence in the construction of the Olkiluoto 3 nuclear reactor. How and why are we to believe assurances on matters of safety from the likes of Areva now and in the future? This is yet another blow to the public relations distortion that nuclear energy is safe. The industry has shown itself - again - to be anything but open and honest in its dealings with the public.

None of us would dream of flying in a plane, driving a car, or living in a house which we knew to be built to such shockingly poor standards of construction, supervision and safety. So why should we tolerate or allow such attitudes, incompetence and deception in the construction of a nuclear facility which, in the event of an accident, could cause massive, unquantifiable damage to our health and the environment? The answer is simple: we can not and we should not.

Areva and its sub-contractors should be reminded whose interests they truly serve. Public safety should always be put before profit and poor procedures. Those responsible for this misconduct should be held to account. The construction of Olkiluoto 3 must be halted.