Do you know many companies like the nuclear industry who have only one product in their catalogue? There was Ford and the Model T, but that was 100 years ago, and they at least knew how to build and sell it.
We wish we’d come up with that joke. The honour however goes to Henri Proglio, the new chief executive of the French nuclear giant EDF. When even the nuclear industry is mocking the nuclear industry, you know things aren’t right.
So how is the nuclear ‘renaissance’ going this week? Not well, in actual fact…
The UK’s safety regulators, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), have just released the third stage of their assessment for the designs of AREVA’s EPR and Westinghouse’s AP1000 reactors. It’s grim reading.
There are a significant number of issues with the safety features of both designs. The regulators still don't have a complete design yet from either Areva or Westinghouse. The HSE will not approve the designs unless this is addressed.
The EPR design has a long list of problems. There are "significant concerns" about the lack of separation between the safety protection and control systems. The HSE says "you could have the same fault occurring on both, so your protection system won't do what it's supposed to do. The company has proposed a way to fix the problem, but has yet to provide details". Concrete reactor shielding may not meet UK standards (the question is whether it meets any standards at all). There are problems with the structural integrity of the reactor but it’s "too early to say whether they can be resolved solely with additional safety case changes or whether they may result in design modifications being necessary". Unbelievably, even simple, fundamental things such as fire doors and alarms are not properly sited.
(You can take a look at some of the many safety failings of the EPR reactor being built at Olkiluoto here.)
Things with the AP1000 are little better. According to the HSE, Westinghouse has significant additional work to prove its reactor is safe across "the majority of the technical topic areas.". The safety case on internal hazards has "significant shortfalls." The regulator criticises Westinghouse for a "lack of detailed claims and arguments". There are major concerns about the reactor design’s new cooling valve but there has been, says the HSE, "minimal progress in addressing our concerns. There is a significant risk that the depth of the issue and the resources and effort that are needed to address it have been underestimated.". On top of all that aspects of the civil and mechanical engineering plans are being questioned, as well as the structural integrity and "human factors".
Wow. That’s quite a list. If the EPR was a car with a list of concerns like that, would you drive it? If the AP1000 was a plane, would you fly in it?
Meanwhile, UK government ministers are complacently unconcerned…