The first two European Pressurized Reactor (EPR) construction projects at Olkiluoto and in Flamanville, France, have been plagued by problems.
Now it turns out that there have been similar setbacks with another EPR project, a double reactor in Taishan, southern China, near Hong Kong. YLE has obtained inspection reports from China's National Nuclear Safety Administration based on visits in 2009, as construction was beginning there. The results are familiar to observers of the Finnish and French ventures.
When building work began on the new, third reactor at Olkiluoto, the Finnish Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority (STUK) detected quality-control shortcomings in areas such as concrete pouring. In 2005 and 2006, it also found that some subcontractors were inexperienced, documentation was incomplete and that there were linguistic difficulties among the workforce, 80 percent of whom are foreigners.
Linguistic and documentation problems
Four years later, the list of problems at Taishan is very similar: concrete quality problems, unqualified or inexperienced subcontractors, shortcomings in documentation and language problems.
The environmental group Greenpeace claims that Areva has not learned from its mistakes.
"There seem to be serious ongoing problems in the company's safety culture," says its Finnish energy specialist Jehki Härkönen. "This is their third such project, and exactly the same mistakes are being made as in the past."
The Finnish nuclear safety watchdog STUK declines to draw conclusions about Areva based on the Chinese report, as Areva is just a subcontractor in Taishan. However when STUK was shown the report by YLE, it immediately requested further details from the Chinese.
STUK Director Petteri Tiippana says that the allegations are serious.
"If there are insufficient language skills, there can be problems," he told YLE. "If builders are not qualified, it can lead to shortcomings in quality. The Chinese authorities are drawing attention to exactly the right issues."
The success of Areva's projects is a crucial question in Finland, as it is one of the main contenders to build the planned Fennovoima reactor in Pyhäjoki, as well as another one in Olkiluoto.
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