Kate Mackenzie A bad week for French nuclear

As if it wasn’t enough that three countries – including France – had raised concerns about safety in the new EPR nuclear reactor design, concerns are building over delays to another big European reactor.

France remains a leader in world nuclear power, with almost 80 per cent of its electricity supply sourced from its reactors. The reactor under development by Electricite de France in Flamanville, northern France, and the Finnish Olkiluoto reactor are meant to be showcases for the new EPR reactor, largely designed by French company Areva.

Delays over Olkiluoto have been well-publicised this year, and it’s also been the subject of a public spat between Areva (which is building the plant) and Finnish utility TVO, which will operate it.

Now the French project in Flamanville is coming under fire for delays, too. It is due to be commissioned in 2012, but sources close to the project told the FT the project is already six months behind, and that EDF is wrestling with Bouyges, the engineering company contracted to build the reactor, over budgets and round-the-clock shifts to advance the project.

Building a nuclear reactors is a huge and lengthy undertaking, and one that is susceptible to fluctuations in the costs of labour and equipment.

The EPR is the same design that is coming under criticism on the safety front, too. It was criticised by British, French, and Finnish nuclear safety authorities on Monday over the ‘independence principle’ between two types of safety control systems in the reactor. World Nuclear News describes the independence principle thus:

Reactor designers need to maintain independence between routine control systems and the systems that maintain safety in unusual conditions. This is because some of the safety systems protect against the failure of control systems and for that reason it should be impossible for them to fail together.

The three countries’ regulators said on Monday in a joint statement:

The EPR design, as originally proposed by the licensees and the manufacturer, AREVA, doesn’t comply with the independence principle, as there is a very high degree of complex interconnectivity between the control and safety systems.

Related links:

Split on the atom (FT, 08/09/09)