Environmentalists criticised reactor as being too expensive and an impossible and dangerous dream

The controversial French EPR at Flamanville in France has once again run into trouble, with the French nuclear watchdog the Nuclear Safety Authority (Agence de surete nucleaire) calling for a halt in work, according to reports appearing in the French press.

EDF, the French engineer-operator of the plant, has admitted that it has received a warning from the French Ministry of Labour but rejected reports that said construction had been forcibly halted.

The gigantic reactor capable of producing 1650 Megawatts of power has had teething problems ever since work first began almost eight years ago. Initially expected to go on stream in 2012, the reactor is now slated to become operational in 2016 with a corresponding rise in cost – from an initial € 3.3 billion to an estimated € 9 billion. Not a single EPR reactor is currently operating. The plant in Olkiouoto in Finland, delayed by several years has yet to be commissioned and the Finnish operator TVO is locked in a bitter arbitration battle to the tune of € 2.7 billion with French nuclear giant Areva, the designer of the troubled reactor.

Escalating cost

India is currently negotiating the unit cost of power for two EPRs to be built at Jaitapur in Maharashtra. The cost of the reactor has jumped from an estimated € 3.3 billion in 2007 to over € 8 billion now. It is likely to cross € 9 billion next year. Environmentalists have criticised the reactor as being too expensive, too gigantic and an impossible and dangerous dream. But French authorities have pegged ahead with the controversial project, work on which has been halted several times following conformity warnings from the French nuclear watchdog and accidents including on-site deaths.

“There is real danger at the heart of the EPR in Flamanville [northern France] which EDF has chosen to ignore, failing to respond to the many summations issued by the Agency . Finally, on 13 December, the Ministry of Works and Labour officially warned the engineer operator to take all necessary steps to remedy a situation dangerous for worker safety. Which means of course that delays and costs will rise even further for this gigantic project,” the influential French website Mediapart reported.

An EDF spokesman confirmed that the Agency had pointed to over 15 cases of non-conformity in a machine at the heart of the reactor under construction.

“We have issued a provisional report and are going to issue a final report on the remedial action taken,” the spokesman said. Earlier, the ASN had halted work when cracks appeared in the reactor’s central dome because of faulty cladding and cementing.

Environmental specialists have questioned India’s decision to firstly purchase the mega reactors and secondly locate them in Jaitapur, considered to lie in a seismic zone. Areva, the reactor’s designer says the reactor has a double dome that ensures absolute safety.

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