Wasting time and money: the EPR nuclear reactor

Nuclear power and climate change Too little, too late
According to the International Energy Agency, to avert catastrophic climate change the world has only until 2017 to stop investments in fossil-fuelled power plants and start reducing global emissions of heat-trapping gases. A single new nuclear power plant takes more than a decade to go from inception to operation. Building a thousand large new reactors, as suggested by some scenarios put forward by the International Energy Agency, would take at least four decades and yet only cut global CO2 emissions by a mere 4.5%. 
This means new nuclear reactors will make zero contribution to meeting the climate change deadline, but nuclear investments would divert money and time from renewable energy and energy-saving technologies — the technologies that can deliver more solution per dollar, and do it much faster

 The EPR nuclear reactor A dangerous waste of time and money NIRS Briefing January 2012  The French EPR* is a nuclear reactor design that is aggressively marketed by the French companies Areva and EDF. Despite the companies’ marketing spin, not only is the reactor hazardous, it is also more costly and takes longer to build than renewable-energy alternatives. While no EPR is currently operating anywhere in the world, four reactors are under construction in Finland (Olkiluoto 3, construction started in 2005), France (Flamanville 3, 2007) and China (Taishan 1 and 2, 2009-10). The projects have failed to meet nuclear safety standards in design and construction, with recurring construction defects and subsequent cover-ups, as well as ballooning costs and timelines that have already slipped significantly.

Flawed and risky design The EPR design, which was supposed to be completed and ready for construction in the early 2000s, remains unfinished. The design has numerous flaws:
 • The EPR is the first reactor design proposed that is to be controlled by fully computerised systems both during normal operation and during accidents. Areva’s original design for the computer systems has been found to violate just about every basic principle of nuclear safety, and many regulators are requiring an analogue back-up system. Using several complex software systems to control a nuclear power plant introduces an enormous amount of potential errors and unpredictable interactions. As of November 2011, no approved design of the control systems exists, even though Areva has been working on this system for years. In addition, in many of the EPR components Areva is proposing to use off-the-shelf computer systems that do not comply with nuclear safety standards.
 • The EPR design is not equipped to deal with a sustained blackout of the power supply to the reactor’s emergency systems, a crucial design defect that caused the Fukushima nuclear disasters in March 2011. The EPR reactor’s emergency diesel generators are insufficient to power many crucial subsystems needed to cool down the reactor. If the diesel generators malfunction, the reactor is designed to prevent a meltdown of the reactor and the nuclear waste ponds for only 24 hours before risking meltdown. In Fukushima, the blackout lasted 11 days. Once cooling is lost, an accident can proceed fast: in the Fukushima reactors, fuel was completely molten 11 hours after the meltdown started. Negligence in construction The EPR design is the world’s largest nuclear reactor, and one of the most complex. The complexity of the reactor and the constant pressure to reduce costs have led to systematic cutting of corners and to cover-ups of defects in Finland and France, including:
 • substandard concrete quality and quality monitoring;
 • hiring inexperienced and incompetent subcontractors; • working without approved blueprints and guidelines; • substandard quality of welding work, due to a lack of training and oversight, as well as a lack of mandatory specifications for welding procedures, skipping mandatory quality controls and tests; and • deliberately covering up structural defects. In both Olkiluoto and Flamanville, Greenpeace has recorded testimony from workers from the French companies working on the project giving orders to cover up defective concrete structures or to accept quality-control reports that show non-conformance with quality standards.
According to Finnish and French nuclear regulators, many of these violations have continued through 2011. See page 6 for details. Information on EPR construction in Taishan, China is almost nonexistent. However, documents describing a set of inspections in 2009 and 2010 by Chinese officials identify a chillingly familiar set of problems, including insufficient supervision, insufficient testing of concrete composition, hiring of inexperienced subcontractors, as well as recurring problems with storage and labeling of components. In virtually all cases of quality problems, Areva’s own inspectors have failed to detect violations or have tried to cover them up. As far back as 2006, the Finnish nuclear regulator said that the number of problems was so high that it is possible that not all of them have been detected. Defects left in the final structures can either initiate a nuclear accident, or fail under accident conditions, making matters worse. Areva is trying to write off these design flaws and construction failures as first-of-a-kind problems that the company has now learned from. This is no different from what the company promised before the current failed projects, in a 2005 brochure: “The EPR is the direct descendant of the well proven N4 and KONVOI reactors, guaranteeing a fully mastered technology. As a result, risks linked to design, licensing, construction and operation of the EPR are minimised, providing a unique certainty to EPR customers.” Increased hazards from accidents and nuclear waste An EPR reactor, once in operation, would contain more radioactive substances than any currently operating reactor, three times as much as the first unit in Fukushima Daiichi. This is due to two things: the EPR is the largest reactor in the world, and it is designed to burn uranium more intensely than existing reactors. This causes the amount of readily released radioactive substances in spent fuel to increase. EU-funded research shows that the health risk posed by high-level nuclear waste from the EPR is up to seven times greater than that caused by waste from existing reactors. This has the potential to expose the public to unforeseen short- and especially long-term health hazards, as well as to enormous uncovered liabilities, since current nuclear waste disposal plans are not adequate to accommodate the more dangerous nuclear waste from the EPR. If there is an accident in an EPR reactor, or in transporting spent fuel from an EPR, the radioactive releases and health impacts would be much larger than typical releases from currently operating reactors……….
EPR Ballooning costs and construction times
The EPR projects in Finland and France have run into severe problems because of defects in the reactor design and the complete breakdown of quality control. This has led to the possibility of increased accident risk as well as skyrocketing construction costs and much longer completion times. While information from the third EPR project in Taishan, China, is almost non-existent, the first indications of similar problems emerged in September 2011. The French Flamanville 3 EPR project was reported in July 2011 to have fallen two years behind schedule, after three and a half years of construction. In October 2011, after six years of construction, the owner of the Olkiluoto 3 in Finland announced that the project would be delayed by five years. An estimate commissioned by the French parliament put the current cost of Olkiluoto 3 at €6.6 m, €3.6 m more than originally estimated. The cost for the Flamanville EPR is already reported to have hit the €6 bn mark, up from the original estimate of €3.3 bn. These costs are at zero profit to Areva. To make a new project profitable, Areva will have to add a typical profit margin of 20-30%, bringing the price to between €7.5 and €8.5 bn. This is also in line with the prices bid by Areva in Canada, South Africa and the United Arab Emirates. Needless to say, none of those projects moved forward. The investors of the first EPR project in Finland were supposed to be shielded from cost overruns. Regardless, Areva has taken the Finnish investors to court to get them to cover the ballooning costs. If the company wins the case, ratepayers will ultimately pay for the failure of the project. Areva recently doubled its claim against the investors from €1 bn to €1.9 bn, and Areva’s total cost for the project is approaching double the contracted price of €3 bn.
Nuclear power and climate change Too little, too late
According to the International Energy Agency, to avert catastrophic climate change the world has only until 2017 to stop investments in fossil-fuelled power plants and start reducing global emissions of heat-trapping gases. A single new nuclear power plant takes more than a decade to go from inception to operation. Building a thousand large new reactors, as suggested by some scenarios put forward by the International Energy Agency, would take at least four decades and yet only cut global CO2 emissions by a mere 4.5%.
This means new nuclear reactors will make zero contribution to meeting the climate change deadline, but nuclear investments would divert money and time from renewable energy and energy-saving technologies — the technologies that can deliver more solution per dollar, and do it much faster. …….http://www.nirs.org/reactorwatch/newreactors/gp2012eprreport.pdf
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One Response to “Wasting time and money: the EPR nuclear reactor”

  1. A Green Road Project Says:

    Reblogged this on A Green Road Daily News.

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