European Expert: warns on the failure of France’s nuclear power system

European Expert: U.S. Policymakers Are ‘As Wrong As They Can Be’ About The French Experience With Nuclear Power Marignac Says “Far From Being a Model, France Should be a Powerful Cautionary Tale for the U.S. about the Folly of a Headlong Rush into More Nuclear Power”

REUTERS WASHINGTON, Sept. 15 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — U.S. policy makers are in the grips of “dangerous and costly illusions” if they think that France is a model showing how nuclear power could be implemented aggressively in the United States, according to Yves Marignac, a leading international consultant on nuclear energy issues and the executive director of the energy information agency WISE-Paris.

In visits this week with state and federal officials, Marignac is debunking the myth of the so-called “French nuclear model” that is being touted as a blueprint for the revival of the embattled nuclear power industry in the U.S. His visit comes at a particular key time, as the U.S. Senate considers additional subsidies to the nuclear industry in its version of pending climate legislation and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) seeks public comment on weakening the rules for loan-guarantee bailouts of proposed new reactors.

Yves Marignac said: “I am at a loss to understand how the United States could be so far off the mark in its understanding of the French experience with nuclear power. The so-called ‘success story’ of the French nuclear program, which is being promoted so assiduously by the U.S. nuclear industry, is a complete disconnect with the stark reality of the 50-year history of rising costs, steadily worsening delays, technological dead-ends, failed industrial challenges and planning mistakes.

The United States could make few worse mistakes than embracing France’s sorry nuclear legacy. If American policymakers are going to weigh the example of France, they need to get the facts instead of settling for the fantasy being sold to them by the US nuclear industry.”

In his remarks today, Marignac noted the following key problems: — French nuclear technology is deeply flawed. The French EPR Reactor is a new reactor design developed by the company Areva in cooperation with the German firm Siemens. Serious doubts have been raised about the safety and cost of the EPR. Experience in the construction at the two sites where EPRs are being built, in Finland (Olkiluoto 3) and France (Flamanville 3), has revealed serious and fundamental weaknesses in design, problems during construction phases and soaring costs. British and Finnish nuclear regulators have also raised significant safety questions, in particular about the computerized command and control system proposed for these reactors. — French nuclear reactor construction delays are getting steadily worse, not better.

Alongside increasing costs, construction times have proven to be problematic. The last four reactors that were built in France, two units in Chooz and two in Civaux, were only connected on average 10.5 years after construction work began, and subsequent safety problems caused further delays. Their official industrial service only started in 2000 and 2002 respectively, some 15.5 and 12.5 years after construction started.

— French nuclear reactor costs are just as out of control as they are in the U.S. The EPR has been promoted as a technology that makes nuclear energy cheaper and more competitive. When the decision was made to build an EPR in Finland in 2002, the government promised that it would cost Euro 2.5 billion and take only four years to build. The final contract, three years later, put the price at Euro 3 billion and construction time was set at 4.5 years. Since construction began in summer 2005, a variety of technical problems have led to a three and a half-year delay, extending the construction period to at least 7 years. The currently estimated additional cost is Euro 2.3 billion, raising the current price tag to Euro 5.3 billion, almost 75 percent over the initial estimate.

More problems, delays and cost overruns are likely to occur before the project is completed. In September 2008, Nucleonics Week quoted an Areva official, saying that Euro 4.5 billion will be a minimum price for any new EPR – almost twice the initial estimate. The other EPR being built in Flamanville, France, was approved in 2005 on the basis of a 2.8 Euro c/kWh cost estimate, which was increased by EDF in December 2008 to 5.4 Euro c/kWh, although EDF itself estimated that it should be below 4.6 Euro c/kWh to guarantee profitability.

— Nuclear power in France has not promoted energy independence. Nuclear power in France is a major presence, providing 76 percent of electricity produced in 2008. However, electricity accounted for only 20.7 percent of the final energy consumption in France that year. Excluding electricity exports, the overall contribution of nuclear power to France’s final energy consumption is only in the range of 14 percent.

If the real aim of the nuclear programme was to reduce oil dependence, then it has clearly failed in its objectives. Over 70 percent of France’s final energy is provided by fossil fuels (oil, gas, coal), with oil accounting for 49 percent of the energy consumption in 2007. Nuclear power cannot provide energy security, as it only has a marginal effect upon oil consumption, which is dominated by the transport sector.

France consumes more oil per capita than the European average, and despite its long-term objective to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by three-quarters, it seems incapable of bucking an upward trend. This is due largely to the weak policies on energy efficiency and new energy sources, influenced by the lock-in of nuclear power. —

French nuclear power is not “safer” . . . and the nation does not have a long term solution to waste storage. The operators of the 200 nuclear facilities in France declare a very large number of events – considered relevant for safety – every year. EDF alone declares between 10,000 and 12,000, of which 700 to 800 are deemed “incidents” or “significant events”.

Large amounts of radioactive waste arise from the French nuclear programme. In total, close to 890,000 cubic meters (m3) of radioactive waste had been produced by the end of 2004. Almost 40 percent of this amount is linked to reprocessing. This total does not account for some 12,000 m3 of waste from the reprocessing plant in Marcoule that was dumped into the sea in 1967 and 1969.

While reprocessing is presented as a means to reduce the volume of highly-radioactive long-lived wastes in final disposal, it actually increases the complexity of waste management, and thereby the danger for the population and environment. Reprocessing comes with numerous extra nuclear facilities and transports, each creating extra safety risks.

But also ‘normal’ radiation exposure arising from routine operations increases, for example by the radioactive discharges of La Hague reprocessing plants, with authorized discharge levels up to 1000 times higher than those applying to the nearby Flamanville nuclear power station. And even France, supposedly the country of nuclear expertise, has no long-term solution for its nuclear wastes. —

Nuclear power in France is not popular. The pursuit of the nuclear program in France is a permanently undemocratic choice. Contrary to the image presented in the United States, the French population is no more in favor of nuclear power than the European average – indeed a majority is opposed to the building of new plants. Surveys repeatedly show that the public lacks confidence in the institutional promoters of nuclear power.

— The “nationalized” nuclear model in France is completely incompatible with the market-driven U.S. In 2001, Compagnie Generale des Matieres Nucleaires (Cogema – General Company for Nuclear Materials), a private company established in 1976, merged with Framatome, the nuclear reactor builder, to create the Areva group. Currently, 96 percent of the share capital of the Areva group is held by the French state and large French industries. Electricite de France (EDF), the French electric utility, was established in 1946 through nationalization of a number of state and private companies. First and foremost responsible for overseeing development of the electricity supply across France, today EDF operates all 59 nuclear reactors in service in France.

EDF was partly privatized in 2005-2006, but the French government still retains control 84.9 percent of its shares. — State ownership of French nuclear power means that the true costs are hidden. Though largely in an indirect fashion, French taxpayers bear a large part of the nuclear costs.

The French government, as both the regulator of electricity prices and the owner of the utility EDF, has been able to overcome the main obstacle to nuclear power by planning, at liberty, the return of capital costs from nuclear investments. French public funding is widely provided to the nuclear industry, from financing extensive R&D programs to guaranteeing low-rate loans.

Official cost estimates for nuclear power tend to neglect or downplay hidden costs from the fuel cycle, waste management, decommissioning of nuclear facilities, security, infrastructural changes and state guarantees for liabilities. All in all, nuclear power is highly subsidized by the French taxpayer.

European Expert: U.S. Policymakers Are ‘As Wrong As They Can Be’ About The French… | Reuters

5 Responses to “European Expert: warns on the failure of France’s nuclear power system”

  1. Amit Narkar Says:

    Where can I get details about Finnish regulators’ remarks on Areva’s EPR construction going on in Finland?

  2. Christina MacPherson Says:

    Problems with Olkiluoto reactor control system – full official letter

    This leaked communication between the Finnish nuclear regulator STUK and the constructor of Olkiluoto AREVA has revealed that there are severe problems with designing the control systems of the world’s largest, prototype nuclear reactor, the European Pressurised Reactor (EPR).

    Helsinki, December 9, 2008
    Anne Lauvergeon
    Chief Executive OfficerAREVA
    33, rue La FayetteF-75442 Paris Cedex 09
    Dear Mrs. Lauvergeon,With this letter I want to express my great concern on the lack of progress in the design of Olkiluoto 3 NPP automation.The construction of Olkiluoto 3 plant seems to proceed generally well but I cannot see real progress being made in the design of the control and protection systems.

    Without a proper design that meets the basic principles of nuclear safety, and is consistently and transparently derived from the concept presented as an annex to the construction license application, I see no possibility to approve these important systems for installation.

    This would mean that the construction will come to a halt and it is not possible to start commissioning tests.I expressed my concern on this already in spring 2008, in a meeting with Mr. Xavier Jacob and TVO’s management. After that Areva organised a workshop at professional level in Erlangen on April 23-25, 2008. The goal of the workshop was to clarify the open technical issues. I was told afterwards that it was a successful event where our concerns were conveyed to your experts and were well understood by them. It was expecially encouraging to hear that after the workshop a group led by an expert of high repute, Dr. Graf, was given a task to make sure that the issues be addressed promptly.

    Since then there have been several meetings among our experts but we have not seen expected progress in the work on Areva side. The systems with highest safety importance are to be designed by Areva NP SAS but unfortunately the attitude or lack of professional knowledge of some persons who speak in the expert meetings on behalf of that organisation prevent to make progress in resolving the concerns.

    Therefore, evident design errors are not corrected and we are not receiving design documentation with adequate information and verifiable design requirements. This is unfortunate because I am convinced that within your organisation there is enough competence to resolve all open issues. I wonder how this competence is actually being used in this project and whether an input by Dr. Graf and his group has been actually utilised.I sincerely hope you could initiate some action in this area, in order to ensure bringing the construction of Olkiluoto 3 to a successful end.

    With my best regards,

    Jukka Laaksonen
    Director General, STUK

  3. Amit Narkar Says:

    Thanks a lot! Areva has signed an MoU with the NPCIL (Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited) to set up 2 reactors at Jaitapur, Dist. Ratnagiri, Maharashtra State (India). We are against the use of nuclear material for power generation and have organised a struggle against the proposed Jaitapur Nuclear Power Plant. Apart from organising people, we are also planning to challenge the proposed project in the court of law. I hope this letter will be of great help.

  4. Amit Narkar Says:

    Is any update on the Olkiluoto and Areva available?

  5. Christina MacPherson Says:

    Areva hopes to sell 50 of the new reactors globally — Firm Is Set to Rake In $1.44 Billion as It Focuses on Nuclear Plans, Expansion
    THE WALL STREET JOURNAL 7 Jan 2010b
    Beyond investments the company is making to build the reactors, Areva i”…………s also facing substantial cost overruns in Finland, where it is building the first new kind of reactor. Areva has booked €2.3 billion in charges to cover its potential financial exposure to the Finnish Olkiluoto project…….

    As part of its fund-raising drive, Areva is currently finalizing the sale of its transmission and distribution unit to a French consortium comprising French engineering firm Alstom and French electrical-equipment company Schneider Electric for some €4 billion.

    The French nuclear company, which is directly and indirectly 93%-owned by the French state, is also in the process of opening some 15% of its capital to industrial investors and possibly foreign funds. Areva has been talking for several months with Japan’s Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd, as well as investors from Qatar, the person also said.

    As a further money-raising exercise for Areva, the French government has also indicated that it would welcome an investment in the company by Germany’s Siemens.

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