EPR nuclear reactor untested

India racing to buy an untried reactor?, The Hindu, 6 Dec 2010, “……….critics point out that the technology, which is extremely capital intensive, remains untried and the EPR has run into trouble wherever it is being built.Started in 2005, the initial completion and commissioning date for the Finnish OL3 reactor was 2009. Over the years and because of repeated delays, the reactor’s budget too has increased from €3 billion to an estimated €5.7 billion with TVO and Areva locked in bitter arbitration. The Finnish company which awarded Areva a fixed price, turn key contract for the project is claiming damages totalling some €2.7 billion.

There are only four such reactors currently under construction in the world, two in China, known as Taishan 1 and 2, one in Finland known as OL3 and Flamanville3 in northern France. Work on Taishan 1 and 2 has just started and it is difficult to say whether it is running to cost and will be completed on time.

But the Flamanville3 reactor in France, being built by the French electricity giant EDF, the world’s most experienced architect engineer which has 58 nuclear reactors to its credit in France alone, has also run up huge delays and cost over-runs. Anne Lauvergeon, the CEO of Areva, in a snide aside during an interview with The Hindu indicated that the problems of both Ol3 and Flamanville could come from the civil engineering firm retained for both projects — the French construction giant, Bouygues.

A third generation pressurised water reactor, the EPR was initially known as the European Pressurised Reactor or the Evolutionary Power Reactor. This has now been changed by Areva to the trademarked name of EPR. Designed to be more competitive because of its massive power output of 1,650MWe, the reactor uses fuel that is a mix of uranium and plutonium oxide known as MOX.

The EPR has been marketed as the safest and strongest reactor in the world capable of withstanding hits from a full-size passenger airplane. But critics say that the redundancy of the safety measures has made the reactor extremely complex and costly to build, resulting in huge delays and cost over-runs……..

Professor Thomas, a specialist on nuclear energy at Greenwich University’s School of Business, feels that India would be making “a terrible mistake purchasing technology that has been plagued by problems, is needlessly expensive and, above all, is yet to prove its efficiency.”

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, considered the gold standard in matters of nuclear safety, in a communiqué issued as recently as July 23, 2010, said it “has informed AREVA NP that the company has yet to demonstrate how some aspects of the EPR reactor’s digital instrumentation and control system meet NRC requirements …………
The long and short of it is that the EPR is still a reactor in the making whose design is likely to undergo serious modification before it can be built as a series………….

Thomas Houdre, the chief of the French Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN), told The Hindu that his organisation was waiting for Areva to submit another report on the Instrumentation and Control question which continues to hang fire. The ASN has also pointed to welding problems. Classified EDF documents leaked to the press in March 2010 have raised questions about the safety of the nuclear core. “Spanning 10 years from 1999 to 2009, the documents refer to a major redesign of the core because original plans did not meet safety criteria for control rod ejection accident at high power,” the New York Times reported. “Control rods regulate the nuclear reaction in the reactor vessel, and a control rod ejection accident has a domino effect, causing parts of the reactor to overheat. In a severe case, that will break the cladding covering the radioactive fuel rods, causing them to release radioactivity, with potentially dangerous consequences,” the NYT noted on July 26, 2010.

EDF documents reveal that the architect engineer at Flamanville3 tried to find safer cladding material. However, these attempts have so far not been successful.

The Hindu : Opinion / Lead : India racing to buy an untried reactor?

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