Greenpeace hands out warning: French nuclear industry at work

Press release - May 22, 2008
Greenpeace activists today presented high-level government and business delegates to the European Nuclear Energy Forum with a warning against involvement in new fault-ridden French nuclear reactors, which have been portrayed as the ‘flagship’ of a so-called nuclear renaissance.

Entitled “Warning: AREVA at work!”, the Greenpeace‘EPR Survival Kit’ is aimed at those foolhardy enough to overlook the chronicproblems affecting construction of the European Pressurised Reactor (EPR)compared to the benefits of investing in energy saving and renewable energy.

The brightly coloured ‘Survival Kit’ summarises theserious problems including poor quality workmanship, delays and significantcost overruns being encountered in the two EPR construction projects, inFinland and France. The EPR is a modern design of reactor developed andaggressively promoted by the French nuclear company AREVA. It promised cheapand reliable reactors.

Intentionally flippant in tone, the ‘Survival Kit’also includes handy tips such as “Phone Paris! President Sarkozy may have somespare cash” – a reference to the Euro 570 million in loan guarantees which theFrench government provided for the EPR reactor in Finland. It also suggests investorsget fit and don running shoes to escape the clutches of disgruntled ministersand consumers. A final suggestion is for a time machine for those regrettingthey were foolish enough to embark on an EPR.

“Greenpeace is urging decision makers at theEuropean Nuclear Energy Forum to face reality, turn their backs on nuclearpower and invest instead in clean energy,” said Jan Beránek, nuclear energy campaigner from GreenpeaceInternational. “Energy saving and renewable energy offer far better value interms of cost, safety, energy security and climate protection than nuclearpower can ever do,” he added. “We don’t want decision makers to be fooled bythe sweet promises of the nuclear industry. These new reactors are simply afiasco.”

New reactor designs likethe EPR place greater demands on construction because of their larger size andfuel burn-up. Stagnation in nuclear plant construction over the last decade orso has led to a shortage of competent personnel and companies. The Finnish EPRhas been under construction for three years but has been blighted ever sincethe concrete was poured. Poor quality concrete, bad welds on the containmentliner and low-quality reactor components are among its problems. The schedulefor completion has been put back by more than two years and costs have explodedto over Euro 5 billion. Construction of a second EPR started in France lastDecember. Technical problems similar to those in Finland have been reported by theFrench nuclear safety agency.

Information contained in the ‘Survival Kit’regarding cost overruns with the Finnish EPR has been rendered out of date bynews yesterday that additional costs may top Euro 2.2 billion.

“The reality of EPR projects is that even theFrench nuclear industry cannot build reactors properly. ‘Non, merci!’ should bethe clear response from governments and power companies worldwide to offers ofFrench reactors,” said Beránek.

Finnish official nuclearinspectors found that AREVA’s attempts to reduce costs had led the company toselect cheap, incompetent subcontractors and overlook safety-related problems.Workers were not provided with nuclear safety training and outdated blueprints wereused. Similar time and cost pressures are likely to be the Achilles heel of anyother future nuclear projects, concludes Greenpeace.

Other contacts: Jan Beránek, nuclear energy campaigner, Greenpeace Internationaltel. +31 6 5110 9558 (Netherlands), 604 207 305 (Czech Republic)

VVPR info: Pictures are available from John Novis, Greenpeace International Picture Desk (London). Tel: + 44 (0) 7801 615 889