Greenpeace blocks restart of French nuclear reactor construction

Press release - June 24, 2008
20 Greenpeace activists this morning stopped construction of the European Pressurised Reactor (EPR) in Flamanville from restarting today by blocking the entrance to three quarries which supply sand and gravel for the build, as none of the safety problems that shut the construction down in May has been addressed.

The Greenpeace activists used chains, lockers and barrels to block entrances to the quarries at Montegourg, Lieusaint and Doville in Normandy and set up banners denouncing "EPR, the great bluff". The EPR (1), which promises to be safer, more reliable and cheaper than previous nuclear reactors, is beset with safety problems and spiralling costs. On 21 May, the French Nuclear Safety Agency ordered a halt to the construction of Flamanville 3 following the discovery of chronic problems affecting the quality of the construction since building work began in December 2007.

"We disagree with the building site being reopened, especially with regard to the quality of the concrete in the reactor's foundations, which has been strongly questioned by the Nuclear Safety Agency. We also want to denounce the bluff that Areva and Electricité de France (EdF) are playing; the timeframe and budgets that Areva and EdF have stated are completely unrealistic," said Yannick Rousselet, Greenpeace France nuclear campaigner.

Despite failing to resolve any of the original causes of the problems, on 19 June the French Nuclear Safety Agency authorised EdF to reopen the construction site based solely on promises to upgrade the control of construction works.

"The nuclear safety agency, which by ordering construction of the reactor to be stopped, proved it was serious in its safety role, should have never authorised the reopening of the site in such conditions", stressed Yannick Rousselet.

Problems include non-conformities in the pinning of the steel framework of the concrete base slab, incorrectly positioned reinforcements, inadequacy of technical inspection by both the construction companies and EdF. Inspectors also uncovered inconsistencies between the blueprint for reinforcement work and the plan for its practical implementation. Samples of concrete were also not collected properly, according to inspectors and cracks have been found in part of the base slab beneath the reactor building. The supplier of the steel containment liner reportedly lacks the necessary qualifications. Fabrication of the liner was continuing despite quality failures demonstrating the lack of competence of the supplier. As a result, one-quarter of the welds of the steel liner of the reactor containment building were deficient.  

"To invest in one of these unsafe reactors is to end up in an endless spiral of problems, costs and risks. With EPR, the nuclear industry is bluffing over what it can deliver. In France construction has been halted for safety reasons, in Finland they are years late and billions over budget," said Jan Beránek, nuclear energy campaigner for Greenpeace International.

Other contacts: Beth Herzfeld, Greenpeace International Press Officer: +44 (0) 7717 802 891Adélaïde Colin, Greenpeace France Communications, tel: +33 6 84 25 08 25Yannick Rousselet, Greenpeace France nuclear campaigner, tel: +33 6 85 80 65 59Jan Beránek, Greenpeace International, tel: +31 651 109 558

Notes: (1) Flamanville 3 is one of two EPR under construction. Both it and Olkiluoto 3, in Finland, are supposedly the vanguard of a ‘renaissance’ in nuclear power, which the industry expects to lead to a series of these types of reactors to be built around the world. The problems at Flamanville echo those of the first EPR, Olkiluoto 3, which has been under construction for three years but has experienced a range of problems since the concrete was poured. Poor quality concrete, bad welds on the containment liner and low-quality reactor components are among its problems. The schedule for completion has been put back by more than two years and estimated costs have nearly doubled to over Euro 5 billion.The new EPR reactor design has been promoted as a flagship for the nuclear industry. French President Nicolas Sarkozy and the state owned companies Areva and EdF are now trying to sell French reactors to numerous countries including to Brazil, Canada, China, South Africa, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States.