And the bad news just keeps on coming for Areva and its construction of the Olkiluoto 3 nuclear reactor in Finland.

Firstly and most critical, a former welding coordinator for Areva sub-contractor Bouygues told Finnish TV yesterday that load-bearing welding in the reactor’s steel structure have not been done properly. The international EN ISO 17660-1 standards require a 120mm weld seam on both sides of such welding. Alternative welding guidelines used at Olkiluoto 3 stipulated only a 20mm seam on one side - a huge difference.


How the welding should have been done (click to enlarge)



How the welding was acturally done (click to enlarge)

Outrageously, Bouygues have two different sets of welding guidelines which have been seen by Greenpeace: a proper one to given to the authorities for approval and a corner-cutting one for the welders in the reactor. Both sets of guidelines were only drawn up after work had started and hundred of safety-critical welds made. Basically, Bouygues lied and as a result these vital welds have not been inspected by Finland’s nuclear watchdog STUK.

These weld seams connect piping and other safety critical components to the steel reinforced concrete of the Olkiluoto 3 reactor building. Therefore it’s vital the structure is built to the strictest and highest standards as possible. The reactor has been built without the proper safety provision and quality assurances. Employees also told Finnish TV of safety violations, the lack of language skills on such an international project and, shockingly, demands to forge documents.

Secondly, Finnish electricity generator TVO, after conducting their own investigation, were unable to deny that employees of Bouygues had been banned from speaking out about safety violations at the plant. The employees were warned not to speak to the media, safety inspectors and even TVO, the reactor’s buyers.

Thirdly, it was announced this week that Areva is facing a 50 per cent rise in the cost of building Olkiluoto 3 from 3 billion EUR to 4.5 billion EUR. The increase has been put down to rising prices and the need to send in extra workers to ‘ensure work proceeds better’. At this stage, it couldn’t be proceeding much worse.

Fourth was STUK announcing an extraordinary three-day inspection of the site at the request of the Finnish government after is was made public that safety standards at the site are in disarray. The results are to be released on Friday afternoon which the classic and infamous time used by all those wanting to hide bad news (not as many people read the Saturday newspapers, you see).

We’ll see if STUK actually do announce bad news but with Areva and STUK’s cosy relationship being revealed last week, we’re not holding our breath. If bad news is announced it will contradict the previous announcement by STUK that all is well welding standards and safety prodecures at the Olkiluoto 3 site. Will STUK find the courage to risk potential embarrassment in the name of safety and public confidence? Stay tuned.

Fifth, on Tuesday, the Finnish Construction Trade Union issued a strike warning at the plant that could see hundreds of workers down tools. The union claims there are irregularities with Polish workers’ pay and conditions. The employers have apparently refused to explain how worker’s pay is being administered. So much for transparency and honesty.

Lax safety procedures, poor construction, communication problems, rocketing costs, and cover ups – is anybody still feeling 100 per cent confident about Olkiluoto 3? Just one of those problems could prove to be catastrophic and yet here we have all five at once. Areva and Bouygues must not be allowed to walk away from this leaving the Finnish government and surrounding countries to pick up the pieces in the event of a nuclear accident.

It’s time for STUK to put aside its friendship with Areva and remembered its responsibilities to the Finnish people and the people of wider region who will suffer should these problem not be addressed and the worst happen.