The future of nuclear power

French company Areva hoped to kick off a nuclear renaissance in Finland by building the most powerful nuclear reactor ever. But cost overruns and construction delays are driving the price up to twice the original 3 billion euro estimate. And Finland is taking the company to court over the issue.


French company Areva is building a new type of nuclear reactor in Finland, which is supposed to be the safest ever. This is the first atomic power station to be commissioned in Europe since the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986. And Areva hopes it will become a showcase for France’s nuclear industry. But so far things aren’t quite going to plan, as France 24 found out during a visit to the site where the power station is being built. 

This quiet corner of rural Finland is seeing the dawn of a new nuclear renaissance. Or at least that was the hope when Areva started work on the most powerful nuclear reactor ever built: cheaper, safer and more efficient was the promise. It was supposed to be ready last year. But it now looks like construction may take four years longer than planned – double the amount of time Areva originally promised to Finland’s energy suppliers TVO. “The delay is of course very unfortunate. We are very disappointed about it. It causes us costs and extra work”, says Käthe Sarparanta, Communications Manager for TVO. 

Because of these delays, the plant could end up costing almost 6 billion euros, twice the original price tag. And Finland is blaming Areva, saying the company has hired inexperienced workers – an argument the two companies will now have to settle in court. “In the beginning they had issues with quality of concrete of the base slab, the foundations of the plant. Then when they started the building activities outside they had challenges meeting the criteria of welding processes”, explains Petteri Tiippana, the director of the Finnish Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority. 

After pressure from the media, those problems have now been solved. But commentators in Finland say Areva, keen to sell its new technology around the world, was simply too ambitious with the budget. “It was very important to Areva because no reactors had been done for so long so they wanted to have it, and they gave very good terms. Too good”, says Heikki Arola, an energy journalist for Helsingin Sanomat in Helsinki. 

But Areva is adamant that corners should not be cut. This so-called EPR plant is designed to last at least 60 years, longer than any existing nuclear power station. And the almost indestructible double dome around the reactor is strong enough to withstand earthquakes and can even remain intact if a plane crashes into it. If Chernobyl had been built this way, says Areva, the radioactive fallout would have been contained. “In the whole of Europe this is the first EPR we are building. This is really the first of a kind. We want to be sure that this plant at the end of the day will be safe and reliable”, says communications manager for Areva, Virginie Moucquot-Laiho. 

If this does prove to be the case, Areva hopes this power station will attract the attention of countries hoping to produce electricity with lower CO2 emissions. But whether or not this plant does become a showcase for the rebirth of France’s nuclear industry, will only become clear once it’s actually finished.

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