The industry reaction to yesterday’s news of safety standard violations at the construction site of Finland’s Olkiluoto 3 nuclear reactor wasn’t entirely unexpected. What we got was the same old denial and spin.
Finnish nuclear safety watchdog STUK has only ordered an inquiry into welding on non-load bearing parts of the reactor. This is despite six of the 11 welding procedure specifications seen by Greenpeace - only finalized after welding had started - being concerned with load bearing welds. That’s welding, which Greenpeace Nordic Nuclear Campaigner Lauri Myllyvirta says, ‘is included in the estimated total strength of the resulting structure and that consequently has to be able to withstand a specified load for the entire lifetime of the structure’
Significantly, Bouygues, the sub-contractor thought responsible for the welding and the threats made to potential whistleblowers, has denied any association with the welding work at the reactor. This directly contradicts the statement from reactor builders Areva which said that ‘last winter, the consortium took note of remarks made by STUK about the welding’, and that, ‘the subject was raised with the subcontractor concerned, Bouygues’. Areva and Bouygues can’t both be right so what is going on here: confusion or cover-up? Neither are desirable traits in companies building nuclear reactors.
The industry reaction to Greenpeace’s revelations has focussed almost entirely on the actual steel framework of the reactor. This distracts from the fact that quality control and supervision of vital work in one of the most important parts of the reactor have been ignored, poorly implemented, or non-existent. This is despite all the parties, Areva, STUK, and Finnish electricity generator TVO having been well aware of the problems for some time.
STUK are now looking at ‘welding at non-load bearing welds’ and are investigating the qualifications of welding coordinators. All of which should have been carefully and thoroughly verified long before construction began. Whatever happened to prevention being better than cure?
This isn’t just about the state of the steel framework of the world’s largest nuclear reactor (as if that isn’t concerning enough) but about the frightening culture of complacency, cover-up and incompetence that has sprung up around the construction of these potentially highly-dangerous projects. It’s not just the welding that needs inspecting and fixing but also the attitudes of those responsible. Something must change and fast. All work must stop and the whole project should be thoroughly investigated – not just this one steel framework.