Safety threat to planned nuclear power stations

Devastating blow as leaked letter shows regulator could pull plug on proposed UK reactors because of 'design errors'

A A A

Britain's plans to build a new generation of nuclear power stations have been thrown into jeopardy by startling official safety fears. The nuclear regulatory body in Finland, where the first of the reactors is being built, has taken the extraordinary step of threatening to halt its construction because it has not been satisfied that key safety systems will work.

STUK, the Finnish government's Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority, says that "evident errors" have not been corrected more than a year after it raised its concerns and condemns the "lack of professional knowledge" of people working for the firm responsible for its design and construction.

This is an unexpected, and potentially devastating, blow because one of the main selling points of the new European Pressurised Reactor (EPR) has been that its safety systems will work far better than those in current reactors. It is particularly important that they do because, as The Independent on Sunday reported in February, they will produce many times as much radiation that could be rapidly released in the event of an accident.

EDF, the French electricity generator, plans to build at least four EPRs in Britain; two each are expected for existing nuclear sites at Sizewell in Suffolk and Hinkley Point in Somerset. It plans to let the first construction contracts this year and to have the first power station in operation by 2017. However, the first EPR, called Olkiluoto 3 – which is being built on an island in the Gulf of Bothnia, off western Finland – has already been plagued with problems. It was supposed to begin operating this year but its construction is now three years behind schedule, vastly exceeding its original cost of €3bn.

The new crisis has been sparked by a leaked letter from Jukka Laaksonen, STUK's director general, to Anne Lauvergeon, the chief executive officer of the French nuclear company Areva, which has designed and is building the reactor, to express his "great concern" over "the design of the control and protection systems".

He said he first raised the issue in the spring of 2008, but "we have not seen expected progress in the work on the Areva side" adding that "the attitude or lack of professional knowledge" of some of the people representing the firm in expert meetings on the issue "prevents progress in resolving the concerns. Therefore evident design errors are not corrected and we are not receiving design documentation with adequate information." He warns: "Without a proper design that meets the basic principles of nuclear safety... I see no possibility of approving these important systems for installation. This would mean that the construction will come to a halt."

John Large, an independent nuclear consultant, describes the warning as "a hell of a damp towel for the reactor", and says that STUK's ultimatum shows that "it must consider the safety issue very serious indeed". The Health and Safety Executive, which will have to approve the EPR for use in Britain, is already liaising closely with STUK.

The letter was written last December, but a spokesman for STUK said late last week that, as far as he was aware, the situation had not changed since. Areva said it had sent some more files to the Finnish utility that will operate the power station, but admitted that "there are still some problems to solve".

EDF declined to comment.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
glastonbury
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Shock of the news: Jake Gyllenhaal in ‘Nightcrawler’
filmReview: Gyllenhaal, in one of his finest performances, is funny, engaging and sinister all at once
Arts and Entertainment
Shelley Duvall stars in Stanley Kubrick's The Shining
filmCritic Kaleem Aftab picks his favourites for Halloween
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington has been given a huge pay rise to extend his contract as Jon Snow in Game of Thrones
tv
Life and Style
Taste the difference: Nell Frizzell tucks into a fry-up in Jesse's cafe in east London
food + drinkHow a bike accident left one woman living in a distorted world in which spices smell of old socks and muesli tastes like pork fat
Sport
Luke Shaw’s performance in the derby will be key to how his Manchester United side get on
footballBeating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
Life and Style
Google's doodle celebrating Halloween 2014
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Don’t send in the clowns: masks and make-up conceal true facial expressions, thwarting our instinct to read people’s minds through their faces, as seen in ‘It’
filmThis Halloween, we ask what makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?
News
peopleFarage challenges 'liberally biased' comedians to 'call him a narcissist'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior IP Opportunity at Major Firm

vary Attractive Salary: Austen Lloyd: MANCHESTER - AN OPENING AT A VERY HIGH Q...

Nursery Manager

£100 - £110 per day: Randstad Education Ilford: Nursery Manager Long term Ran...

Sales Consultant – Permanent – West Sussex – £24-£25k plus commission and other benefits

£24000 - £25000 Per Annum plus company car and commission: Clearwater People S...

SEN Teaching Assistant

£45 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Bristol: Supply SEN Support Jobs in Bris...

Day In a Page

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

Fall of the Berlin Wall

It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

Paul Scholes column

Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

Frank Warren column

Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

Adrian Heath's American dream...

Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

Fall of the Berlin Wall

History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

Turn your mobile phone into easy money

There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes