Finland’s new nuclear reactor is still being built, in spite of the problems

Construction work at the new Olkiluoto reactor in Finland, being built by Areva of France, continues apace, as some spectacular photos show.

The pictures are a sign that anyone hoping that the reactor will be such a huge commercial disaster that it will deter all other investment in nuclear power is likely to be disappointed.

The Olkiluoto OL3 project has been dogged by problems, most recently the dispute between Areva and TVO, the Finnish electricity company that will own and run the reactor.

As Areva put it in its results statement at the end of last month:

Areva has sent the client documents detailing the methods of execution for the final phases of the project that are in accordance with standard industry practices for the construction of turnkey power plants. Areva will only commence the final phases of the construction when TVO has agreed upon the proposals that have been made or issued contract amendments that provide for the requested modifications, both in terms of costs and time lines.

That did not mean that work was coming to a halt immediately, but it faced the prospect of an indefinite delay.

When the time comes to fit the pipework and other equipment needed to commission the reactor, Areva said, it would not proceed unless it was given the commitments it wanted from TVO, in terms of approvals to speed up construction.

For now, though, important progress is still being made, with the fitting of the vast dome on top of the reactor hall (you may just be able to see the people around the edge, for scale).

The  saga has become seen as a test case for the nuclear renaissance, both by supporters of nuclear power and opponents.

Certainly, it has not been Areva’s finest moment. The French company expects to lose €2.3bn on the project, which is now running three years behind its original schedule.

However, the cost overruns on the EPR that Areva is building for EDF at Flamanville in northern France have been much smaller: the estimate now is about €4bn, compared to a previous figure of €3.3bn.

Nor has the experience of OL3 put Finland off the idea of building more new reactors.

The talks over the “speeding-up measures” between Areva and TVO continue, and Anna Lehtiranta of TVO insisted this week that “we do not sacrifice safety for speed: that is the starting-point.”

But as she pointed out, both sides have an interest in getting on and finishing the project.

“OL3 is such a big showcase for Areva that they have a need to complete it successfully, and show they can build a modern nuclear power plant,” she said.

With export markets opening up in the US, China, India, the UK, the UAE and several other countries, the long-term cost of for Areva of any further delays at Olkiluoto could outweigh the benefits on that one contract.

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