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France

Regulators call for redesign of France’s latest reactor

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2009-11-03

Nuclear safety watchdogs in France, the United Kingdom and Finland have requested "improvements" to safety systems in the design of the third-generation EPR reactors being built by French nuclear giant Areva.

Nuclear regulators from France, Britain and Finland called on France’s state-run nuclear firm Areva to correct a design flaw in its newest European Pressurised Reactor (EPR) model for safety reasons.

British nuclear safety regulator HSE, French regulator ASN and Finnish regulator STUK have asked for amendments to the reactors’ design, which could incur expensive delays in completing the first two EPRs that Areva is building in France and in Finland.

“Independence is important because, if a safety system provides protection against the failure of a control system, then they should not fail together,” the regulators said in a statement.

French energy giant Électricité de France (EDF), along with German counterparts EON and RWE, designed the reactors to be more fuel efficient, safer and to generate less nuclear waste. But regulators said the operational controls for EPRs are too closely connected to the safety systems designed to take over during a safety breach.

“The licensees and Areva have agreed to make architectural changes to the initial EPR design, which will be reviewed by the regulators,” the regulators said.

An Areva spokesman told AFP that the regulators’ request “does not call into question the safety of the reactor”.

Exporting French nuclear know-how

The regulators’ request could derail French attempts to become a leading global provider of nuclear technology. President Nicolas Sarkozy has campaigned vigorously for France to export its nuclear knowledge, citing the country’s existing 58 reactors as being some of the cleanest and safest in the world. Sarkozy has already approved the construction of a second EPR in France. Its first such reactor is due to become operational in Flamanville in 2012.

But the very first EPR, built by an Areva-led partnership with German firm Siemens and Finland’s TVO, is over three years behind on its originally scheduled launch for sometime in 2009.

EDF plans to build four EPRs in Britain and, along with Areva, is scheduled to build two in southern China. Areva also has a draft agreement in place to build up to six reactors to India. Last week the US state of Maryland approved EDF’s purchase of an interest in the Constellation Energy Group, which would allow it to build four EPRs in the United States.

Date created : 2009-11-03

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