Finland's safety fears over next-generation nuclear reactor

| 19th June 2009
Smoke rises from a nuclear facility's four chimneys

Finland's nuclear authority may to halt construction of the country's new EPR reactor over safety fears

Areva, which designed and is building the Olkiluoto reactor, was condemned for a 'lack of professional knowledge’

Safety concerns may halt construction of a new nuclear facility in Finland, posing questions about the viability of the next generation of European Pressurised Reactors destined for the UK

Finland’s nuclear regulatory body may halt construction of the country’s new European Pressurised Reactor (EPR) amid ‘great concern’ over key safety systems. The concerns will be echoed in the UK, where the Government hopes to have the first of four new EPRs built by 2017.

A major selling point of the new generation nuclear reactors had been their safety systems, a vital consideration as they will produce more radiation than current reactors.

Doubts over the safety of Olkiluoto 3, being built on an island off western Finland, were raised by the director general of STUK, Finland’s radiation and nuclear safety authority.

In a leaked letter to French company Areva, which designed and is building the reactor, Jukka Laaksonen said ‘evident errors’ had not been corrected more than a year after STUK first identified them, and expressed ‘great concern’ over the design of the reactor’s control and protection systems.

He condemned Areva’s ‘attitude or lack of professional knowledge’ for failing to resolve these issues. ‘Without a proper design that meets the basic principles of nuclear safety… I see no possibility of approving these important systems for installation,' he wrote. 'This would mean that the construction will come to a halt.’

Already three years behind schedule, Olkiluoto was projected to cost €3 billion but has gone vastly over budget. It had been scheduled to go on-line this year.

Fears over Olkiluoto 3's safety will put a spanner in the works of the UK’s nuclear ambitions. The Government has approved the construction by French energy giant EDF of four new EPR reactors, expected to be situated in Sizewell, Suffolk, and Hinkley Point, Somerset.

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