Greenpeace protest targets de Villepin visit to troubled nuclear reactor project in Finland
Helsinki, Monday June 5th 2006 - Greenpeace activists this morning protested during the visit of the French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin to Finland. Activists raised an inflatable nuclear reactor in front of the parliament with the banner: 'EPR: A French Nuclear Disaster' while the Prime Minister was entering and leaving the building. de Villepin will visit later this afternoon the construction site of the 'Olkiluoto-3' reactor which is supplied by the French state-controlled nuclear group Areva.
The troubled reactor named 'Olkiluoto-3' is some 10 months behind schedule because of major problems with its construction. The design of the new pressurised reactor is also inherently dangerous, because it cannot withstand the impact of a possible terrorist attack using commercial aircraft, according to documents obtained recently by Greenpeace's.
The delays are caused by serious safety-related technical problems. Crucially, the contractor has been unable to control the quality of weldings of the pressure vessel, which is the core of the new reactor and the most sensitive part of the whole plant. Construction was also delayed earlier in the year after problems with the quality of the concrete foundation of the reactor, throwing its stability and durability into doubt.
The EPR design was sold to Finnish utility TVO by the French nuclear company Areva-Framatome in 2003 and a year after construction started in 2005, the Finnish Minister for Trade and Industry has admitted that it has 10 months of delays.
"Not only the Olkiluoto project has about one month of delays for each month of actual construction but the whole design of the reactor is seriously flawed." said Harri Lammi of Greenpeace in Finland. "It shows that no matter what promises governments are making about so-called newer designs of nuclear reactors, the fact remains that the technology is inherently dangerous and an accident waiting to happen. This project must be stopped now, and Finland must increase the use of its abundantly available renewable energy sources, which are already today its second largest energy source after oil."
In an ultimate PR-attempt, de Villepin is desperately trying to save the French nuclear industry from further embarrassment, not only because of the Finnish project but also because it is facing a deep waste crisis at home. In May, Greenpeace proved high levels of contamination from France's largest nuclear waste dump in Normandy (1). Over half a million cubic metres of radioactive waste from that site might now need to be removed and reconditioned, costing billions of euros. Another waste dump in the Champagne region has also been found to be leaking radioactivity into an underground aquifer, threatening the nearby vineyards.
Questions about the European Pressurised Reactor (EPR) project are being raised in France, after Greenpeace published a secret safety assessment which showed that the EPR design could not withstand the impact of a terrorist attack using a large commercial airliner (2).
To demonstrate how easy this could potentially be, a Greenpeace activist flew a powered parachute into the Flamanville reactor plant, last week demonstrating the total lack of security measures (3) around France's nuclear installations.
Construction at Olkiluoto has now been resumed before completion of a safety assessment, a serious blow to the credibility of the Finnish nuclear authority STUK. John Large, a nuclear engineer of Large & Associates stated at the release of his paper released today by Greenpeace. "The nuclear regulator STUK is simply not in control of the situation which is associated with STUK's undue haste of rushing in to grant the Construction Licence in such a short time last year. STUK has known about quality problems with the concrete slabs since October 2005 and yet it still allowed construction work to continue and the investigation into the defective concrete to drift on over 8 months. This would not be tolerated in the construction of a reinforced concrete office building." (4)
The delays will incur major cost overruns, as Areva signed a fixed-cost contract for 3.2billion euros to build the reactor. Areva obtained a guarantee from the French export credit agency Coface for 610 million euros. It is increasingly likely that French taxpayers' money will be dragged into the troubled project.
2. http://www.greenpeace.org/raw/content/france/press/reports/DGSNR-EDF.pdf 3. http://www.greenpeace.org/international/press/releases/greenpeace-flying-protest-expo 4. Large, John. European Pressurised Reactor at Olkiluoto 3, Finland. Brief & interim review of the porosity and durability properties of the in situ cast concrete at the Olkiluoto EPR construction site. June 4^th 2006.
Notes to Editors:
The EPR is a second attempt by the French nuclear industry to get new reactors erected. The last reactor built in Europe, the French Civeau-2 reactor started in 1999, was the last of 4 'N4' designs, and the model for the EPR design. It was hailed at the time for being cheaper and safer than its predecessors. All 4 reactors had major design problems and have already lost years of electricity production, a financial disaster which was covered by the French state-owned utility EdF.
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