Jean-Michel Bezat for Le Monde | Translated from French by Dalel Benbabaali

Strength tests revealed “anomalies” in the steel of the vessel where nuclear fission takes place. The full report by the French nuclear safety authority can be seen HERE.

Coalition Disarmament and Peace(CNDP)

PRESS STATEMENT | For urgent circulation and publication

French Nuclear Safety Authorities reveal EPR’s vulnerability as Modi visits France to advance nuclear purchase

The French nuclear safety regulator ASN has reported extremely serious defects in the European Pressurized Reactor being built at Flamanville (France) by the French nuclear company Areva.

The detected defects have to do with substandard material used in crucial components, the bottom and the lid of the EPR pressure vessel, the very heart of the reactor. These components cannot be repaired once the reactor goes critical.

The revelation vindicates long-standing safety concerns of independent nuclear experts and citizens’ groups especially in Finland and India where Areva is constructing or planning to build EPRs.

This revelation coincides with Prime Minister Modi’s visit to France, during which he is expected to finalize a nuclear agreement with Areva. It should force the Indian government to rethink its nuclear expansion plans.

The EPR’s design and construction have run into unending problems both in France and Finland, where the first such reactor has been under construction since 2005. Its completion has been delayed from 2009 at least till 2018, and its costs have nearly tripled.

France, once the nuclear industry’s poster-boy, has itself decided to scale down nuclear power generation by 25% and make an “energy transition” to renewable sources.

Next week (18th April) marks the fourth anniversary of the killing in a police firing of Tabrez Sayekar, from Sakhri Nate near Jaitapur in Maharashtra. Jaitapur is where Areva is planning to construct the world’s largest nuclear plant, in the teeth of strong public protests. Over the last four years, Areva has gone almost bankrupt. Vulnerabilities of the EPR design have been repeatedly revealed; and an earthquake fault-line discovered running through the proposed Jaitapur site.

After Fukushima (2011), which revealed the inherent problems of nuclear safety, a number of countries have abandoned nuclear power.

We urge the Indian government to give up its nuclear obsession and immediately declare a moratorium on all nuclear negotiations and under-construction projects. It must respect the views of citizens and local communities, including farmers and fisherfolk, who oppose nuclear power because it threatens their lives and livelihoods.

We also ask the French government to respect human life in India and terminate the nuclear negotiations in the wake of the new revelations about the EPR.

For CNDP

Praful Bidwai
Achin Vanaik
Lalita Ramdas
Abey George
Kumar Sundaram

Contact: Kumar Sundaram – (9810556134 / [email protected])

Flamanville (Manche) EPR reactor, started in 2007, is facing a new problem. And it is the heart of the project that is today affected: the vessel where the fission of the atoms occurs and which is also the second containment barrier for radioactivity, after the double concrete walls of the reactor’s building. The Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN) has announced, Tuesday, April 7, that Areva had warned it about an “anomaly in the composition of the steel” in the lid and the bottom of the reactor’s vessel.

EPR Flamanville

In the first chemical and mechanical tests on similar pieces, at the end of 2014, the engineers found a high concentration of carbon, reducing the ability of steel to resist the propagation of cracks. It is an essential resistance for a boiler submitted to enormous pressures and violent thermal shocks, says the nuclear watchdog.

The Minister of Ecology and Energy, who has ruled in favour of the construction of new power plants once the oldest are shut down, immediately requested Areva to comply “without delay” to the demands of the ASN. Ségolène Royal reiterated her “confidence in this control and expertise device” – consisting in ASN and its armed wing, the Radioprotection and Nuclear Safety Safety Institute (IRSN) – supposed to ensure almost the zero-risk to nuclear facilities.

Forged in the Areva plant of Chalon/Saint-Marcel (Saône-etLoire), the vessel is subject to the order on equipments under nuclear pressure which strengthens technical requirements in this area since 2005. This piece must be faultless since it is the only one that cannot be changed during the lifetime of a EPR, which is sixty to one hundred years.

EDF and Areva announced the launch in April of a “new test campaign”, the results of which are expected in October, and commit to “bring to ASN all the information to demonstrate the safety and quality of the concerned equipments”. This setback will not prevent the Flamanville works to continue, say the two groups. But in the event that new tests are invalidated, the site, which is more than five years late and has spiraling costs – they have increased from 3.3 billion to 8.5 billion – could be further delayed.

In autumn, EDF had again postponed the date of commissioning from 2016 to 2017 and announced a new estimate of the final cost, which could reach 10 billion. On the website, unions are skeptical about this calendar. The team of the new CEO, Jean Bernard Levy, also displays great caution just a few months before the start of the most critical phase: reactor testing.

The challenge is huge for Areva, but also for EDF. In its mission statement to Mr. Levy, the shareholder State (84.5%) asked him to “improve the site management” and “deliver while optimizing costs and time.” EDF-Areva joint teams are working on it at the headquarters of Areva, in La Defense. The connection of Flamanville (1650 MW) also conditions the shutdown of two 900 MW units, which could be those of Fessenheim (Haut-Rhin).

China has been warned

This uncertainty about the capacities of vessel resilience is all the more worrying as it also concerns the two EPR built by EDF and its partner China General Nuclear Power Group (CGN) on the site of Taishan in the Guangdong Province of China. ASN officials have warned their Chinese colleagues of the risk of flaws, while China’s first EPR is expected to be commissioned in 2016. However, ASN indicates that the pieces of the Finnish Olkiluoto EPR, forged in Japan, are not affected by these “anomalies”.

This new setback suffered by the EPR will have a bad impact for its potential customers, such as South Africa, Poland, Saudi Arabia and India. All have questioned for several years the strength and consistency of the French nuclear industry. The announcement on the Flamanville EPR is on the eve of the visit to France by Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, whose country is a candidate for the purchase of two to six EPR.

It is part of an already degraded environment for Areva. The group announced on March 4 a loss of 4.8 billion euros in 2014 fiscal year and a decrease of 8% of its turnover. Its leaders have been working for months with EDF and the government for a complete reorganization of the nuclear industry. In this context, all or part of Areva NP, the reactor and Areva subsidiary services, should come under the control of the electricity giant.

While industrialists still believe in the future of the EPR, ecologists and antinuclear activists found in this umpteenth problem one more reason to call off the construction. “After numerous technical problems, years of delay and a huge extra cost, says Europe Ecologie-Les Verts, the new soap opera of this gigantic industrial failure deconstructs once more the myth of safe and inexpensive nukes”.