Nuclear expert warns of safety flaws in Areva’s reactor designNuclear expert warns of safety flaws in Areva’s reactor design

Press release - 20 November, 2009
An independent expert, commissioned by Greenpeace, has concluded that two nuclear reactors, currently under construction in Finland and France, suffer from serious safety flaws. The EPR (European Pressurised Reactor) design, which is supplied by the French company AREVA, fails to adequately separate different reactor control systems. Greenpeace is calling on the Finnish and French governments to immediately halt work at the EPR construction sites in Olkiluoto and Flamanville.

According to independent nuclear safety analyst Dr. Helmut Hirsch the flaws in the reactor safety systems "in the worst case, can lead to a minor incident developing into a severe accident."  

Greenpeace Nordic commissioned Dr. Hirsch to produce an analysis of the design flaws in the EPR's nerve centre (1).  The nerve centre is the 'brain' of the reactor, responsible for management of all safety systems in use at the plant. Reactor control systems are supposed to be independent, so that a failure of one system doesn't compromise the whole plant. This is not the case with the EPR.

According to Hirsch, the nerve centre design is "contradictory to the foundation of nuclear safety". This analysis reinforces a joint statement by the nuclear authorities of Finland, UK and France, who recently declared that the EPR's nerve centre is inadequate and must be redesigned (2).

"The ever-mounting safety problems with this French nuclear reactor add to the many reasons to abandon nuclear power. Nuclear energy undermines climate protection; the Finnish choice for nuclear power has shut the door on investment in renewable energy and energy savings," said Lauri Myllyvirta , Energy Campaigner with Greenpeace Nordic.

In addition to design issues, the Olkiluoto site has a history of construction problems. (3)

"Operating a nuclear power plant always entails the risk of a severe accident. These design flaws and continued construction defects increase this risk. Olkiluoto 3 is a warning sign that should convince any reasonable decision-maker to forget about building new nuclear," commented Dr. Rianne Teule, Nuclear Campaigner at Greenpeace International.

The fundamental reasons behind the failure of Olkiluoto 3 are tight schedules, cost pressure, lack of expertise and manufacturing capacity, and the complex and untested design of the reactor. Any future nuclear construction project will face the same issues. The quality problems of Olkiluoto 3 have already been replicated in the construction of another EPR in Flamanville, France.

Other contacts: Lauri Myllyvirta, Climate Campaigner, Greenpeace , +35 850 3625 981Dr. Rianne Teule, Nuclear Campaigner, Greenpeace , +31 650 640 961Beth Herzfeld, Greenpeace International, +44 7717 802 891

Notes: 1: http://www.greenpeace.org/international/press/reports/statement-on-the-separation-of 2: See STUK press release 2.11.2009: http://stuk.fi/stuk/tiedotteet/fi_FI/news_571/ and http://stuk.fi/stuk/tiedotteet/fi_FI/news_571/_files/82389003978932250/default/epr_stuk_asn_ja_hse_englanniksi.pdf 3: Last week it was revealed that the massive pipes of the primary coolant system had been partially welded using unacceptable methods without any supervision or written records. The surface of the pipes had been welded to cover up damage to their surface, which may have weakened the pipes beyond repair. See http://www.hbl.fi/text/inrikes/2009/11/11/d34722.php Only a month ago, coolant pipes were welded using an inappropriate method and without effective supervision. See STUK press release 15.10.2009: http://stuk.fi/stuk/tiedotteet/fi_FI/news_567/ To date the Finnish watchdog STUK has prevented many extremely serious quality failures that passed quality control by Areva and the Finnish investor, TVO. However the number of detected quality problems is so huge - about 3,000 – that it is unlikely they have caught them all. Especially, as contractors are known to have attempted to hide their mistakes by fabricating measurements, covering up defective structures and failing to record shoddy repair work. In 2006 STUK said that the number of quality problems is so large that it is possible all cannot be detected.For a full briefing on Olkiluoto 3 including construction and safety issues see http://www.greenpeace.org/raw/content/finland/fi/dokumentit/ol3Factsheet.pdf

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