22 years after Chernobyl, the nuclear industry remains mired in accidents, cover-ups and incompetence

Press release - April 24, 2008
On the eve of the 22nd Chernobyl anniversary the nuclear industry has been rocked by revelations of cover-ups following a major nuclear accident in Spain and ongoing embarrassment over costly delays and deficiencies related to the construction of reactors in France and Finland intended to be flagships of a 'nuclear renaissance'.

Greenpeace revealed, on 5 April 2008, that an accident at the Spanish nuclear power plant Asco-I had caused significant radioactive contamination of public areas outside of the plant. The plant's operator Endesa/Iberdrola had kept this secret for four months. Even after Greenpeace published details of the accident, the State regulatory agency CSN continued to underestimate its severity for several days. Under pressure of evidence it was forced to admit that the leak was at least one hundred times larger than originally announced. Hot radioactive particles were spread many kilometres away from the site and several hundreds of people needed to be screened for possible contamination.

Both the leak and subsequent contamination, caused by a series of unexplained errors made by the plant's operators, together with cover-up attempts by plant management and State authorities, remind us that the lessons of Chernobyl have still not been learnt. Greenpeace is calling on the European Commission to launch an urgent investigation into the accident. [1]

Meanwhile in France, after only three months of construction of the Flamanville 3 nuclear plant, inspectors from France's official nuclear safety agency, ASN, have uncovered a string of problems with the 'European Pressurised Reactor' (EPR), which the French nuclear company Areva is promoting as its cheaper, safer and more reliable 'flagship' design. [2]

Letters from ASN, addressed to the Director of Development at Flamanville 3, reveal that the concrete forming the base of the reactor has been poured incorrectly, the concrete base slab for the reactor has developed cracks, steel reinforcing bars have been wrongly arranged, the containment liner has been welded by a company without the required certification, and one-quarter of the welds are deficient. In addition, according to the letters, the implementation plan differs from the approved project specification, there is ineffective or non-existing quality control, and the constructor failed to promptly repair mistakes and improve procedures.

"Just as at Chernobyl, we see a situation in Spain and France where regulations are being flouted and political and economic interests are being placed before safety and quality concerns. Sadly, little has changed since 1986. Nuclear power remains a failed 20th century experiment which has no place in meeting future energy demand or in helping to avert catastrophic climate change," said Jan Beránek, Greenpeace International Nuclear Campaigner.

Flamanville 3 is Areva's second attempt to build an EPR project. The first, Olkiluoto-3, in Finland, is, after some two and a half years, already running two years behind schedule. It is over budget and plagued by serious safety issues. [3]

"The nuclear industry remains mired in accidents, lies, cover-ups and incompetence. Today's 'renaissance' reactors are threatening to become tomorrow's Chernobyls," warned Beránek.

Greenpeace sees no role for nuclear power in cutting the world's greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2050, to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. Instead, Greenpeace is calling for an 'Energy Revolution' based on renewable energy sources and energy efficiency. Governments which opt for nuclear power will also find their energy independence and security limited to the very few countries and companies which can provide nuclear technology and fuel.

Other contacts: Jan Beránek, Nuclear Campaigner at Greenpeace InternationalTel. +31 6 5110 9558

Notes: [1] Letter from Greenpeace Spain to European Energy Commission Andris Piebalgs [2] English translations of the letters from ASN. (Translations arranged by Greenpeace):- the December 2007 inspection - the February 2008 inspection - the March 2008 inspection Original French versions of the letters are available on the ASN website[3] Greenpeace's briefing on Olkiluoto 3 (March 2008)