More bad and almost unbelievable news has emerged from the ongoing and disastrous construction of the Olkiluoto 3 (OL3) EPR reactor in Finland. In September when it found that the welding of the reactor’s steel lining was substandard, the Finnish nuclear watchdog STUK ordered work to be halted.
Unbelievably, when STUK conducted another inspection a few weeks later, they found welders still at work. This is worrying because the Polish machine yard responsible for the welding was found to be making the same safety violations over two years ago. The Finnish authorities and the reactor’s builders Areva have failed to act on safety warnings and prevent safety violations.
To add to the surreal atmosphere the pipes for the reactor’s primary coolant system that were made to replace the original defective pipes are showing the exact same defect. How’s that for learning by one’s mistakes?
All in all, this is a disgraceful state of affairs considering this is Areva’s flagship project and is supposed to herald the dawn of a new nuclear renaissance. Now, you could be forgiven for thinking that, because OL3 is the first reactor of its kind and the first to be built in Europe since the Chernobyl disaster 20 years ago, Areva are bound to suffer some problems in a project this novel and complex.
If you were feeling extremely lenient and generous you might be right. The thing is the problems at OL3 aren’t exclusive to this construction project. Look at Areva’s construction of another EPR reactor in Flamanville, France. Like OL3, it’s also wildly over budget and behind schedule. The construction in Flamanville has also seen the same defects and safety violations as OL3 – cracked concrete and poor welding in the reactor’s foundations.
Ok, you’re saying, but OL3 and Flamanville are both EPR reactors. The EPR is new, third generation technology. You’re going to see the same problems in both projects. That may be true but now look to America where Areva is helping to build a MOX nuclear fuel production facility near Aiken in South Carolina.
Earlier this year, the US’s Nuclear Regulatory Commission announced that bad concrete and faulty reinforcing steel had been found in the foundations of the site. The NRC also found there had been inadequate inspections during the manufacturing of the steel. Bad concrete. Faulty steel. Inadequate inspections. Safety violations? Sound familiar?
This is not coincidence. This is not bad luck. This is not ‘teething troubles’. It’s starting to look like a curse. These problems are in the nuclear industry’s DNA.