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Olkiluoto – Scandal After Scandal

05.01.2007 Lauri Myllyvirta

The nuclear reactor now under construction in Olkiluoto, Finland was supposed to be a shiny showcase for the nuclear industry. Environmentalists warned about the hasty licensing procedure and inadequate resources for quality control. The project had been going on for less than a year when the first scandals surfaced.

Deficient concrete & steel container
When the concrete of the base slab of the reactor was found to be too porous, Finnish Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority (STUK) investigated the quality and safety control of the project, finding many severe problems and violations. Safety violations were found also in other components, including the steel container of the reactor. During the investigation by STUK, there were 700 reported non-conformances.

Read the most alarming quotes from the report

Timetable scrapped
The project was announced by the Finnish investor TVO to be 18 months behind schedule mainly due to problems with the hot legs – one of the components most critical to safety. The French La Tribune wrote that the delay could be 3 years. Read more!

Hot legs causing cold sweat
Three out of four of the ‘hot legs’ (the pipes that transfer heat from the nuclear island to the secondary circuit) were found to be faulty. The grain size of steel is too large for the type of ultrasonic testing required by Finnish Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority (STUK). If a suitable testing method cannot be found, the large pipes must be recast. The primary circuit is one of the components most critical to safety, as its the failure can lead to a serious accident. According to TVO, some of the work has already been redone.

Areva left empty handed
TVO froze payments to Areva in June 2006 because of their failure to live up to the contract

EPR not compatible with Finnish regulation
The French radiation safety authority IRSN reported that because of OL3, Finnish regulations need to be changed to allow releasing radioactive steam from the primary circuit of a nuclear power plant in case of damage to the steam generator tubes. Not being able to do this could result in a reactivity accident, a severe example of which was the Chernobyl accident.

Send the bill to taxpayers
The Finnish government increased the allocation of free emission credits to the emissions trading sector because of delays of Olkiluoto-3 by EUR260 million. Read more!

State aid investigated
The European Commission announced that it will launch a thorough investigation of the public subsidies granted to the reactor, casting further shadows on the project. The investigation could force the companies involved to repay the benefit they have acquired from illegal state aid. Read more!

Areva loses in China
In December 2006, Areva lost a large bid for four nuclear reactors in China. The Financial Times reported that the Chinese cited OL3 problems as a cause for concern.

Finns sold a second class reactor
A report by Areva lists a number of safety features of the EPR design offered to the US market not included in the reactor being built in Finland. Seemingly the Finnish officials and Areva consider that Finns don’t deserve the same level of nuclear safety as the US.
(The report can be obtained from NRC document library with the access number ML063390020)

Areva’s income taking damage
Areva’s first-half 2006 operating income was hit hard by delays in the EPR construction project at Olkiluoto-3 in Finland. Operating income for Areva’s nuclear operations plunged EUR300 million compared to the first-half of 2005. Areva has later admitted that the losses are expected to be in the range of EUR700 million. Read more!

Areva’s uranium mining plans facing setbacks
Areva’s applications for uranium prospecting permits were declined in relatively densely populated Southern Finland. The plans had provoked widespread local opposition.

Greenpeace released a report in December 2006 showing that Areva’s uranium mining operations have caused severe environmental damage in the US, Canada, Africa and France. The company has repeatedly neglected the environment and human health in its activities. Read more!

Juicy headlines in the Finnish media