Defects found in nuclear reactor the French want to build in Britain

Safety investigators uncover cracks in the concrete base and substandard welds. Lack of recent experience in building nuclear plants said to have caused problem

The French nuclear safety agency has uncovered a series of defects in the construction of a reactor in Normandy considered to be the template for the next generation of stations due to be built in Britain.

The agency, ASN, says that a quarter of the welds seen in its steel liner – a crucial line of defence if there were to be an accident – are not in accordance with welding norms, and that cracks have been found it its concrete base, also essential for containing radioactivity.

The reports – in a series of letters covering inspections made between December and last month – will cause particular concern because similar defects have been listed in a previous report by the Finnish safety authority into the only other reactor of its type being built anywhere in the world.

The earlier report helped put the Finnish reactor, on the island of Olkiluoto in the Gulf of Bothnia, two years behind schedule, three years after construction began. It is also believed to have helped increase its cost by more than 50 per cent. Similar delays and cost overruns here would play havoc with the Government's nuclear programme, and could even lead to it being abandoned.

However, the design, known as the European Pressurised Reactor, remains the most likely to be built in Britain.

Electricité de France (EDF) – which is constructing the French reactor at Flamanville near the tip of the Normandy peninsula – has said that it wants to build four of them in Britain at a cost of £10bn.

Gordon Brown and Nicolas Sarkozy agreed to co-operate closely on nuclear power during the French President's visit to London last month, raising visions of the two countries selling reactors worldwide. The French safety reports therefore come like unwelcome bucketfuls of cold water amid this growing nuclear love affair.

Although the ASN reports are identifying flaws very early in construction, the Finnish report – by the country's Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority – makes clear that everything should be right from the start: "The technical and organisational preconditions for the safe operation of a nuclear power plant are created during the construction phase of the project."

The ASN report says that investigators have identified faults in the pouring of the concrete and in its formulation. There appears to be an "insufficient" course of action in preparing for concreting and "insufficiency of technical control".

EDF points to reports in technical journals saying that the French nuclear authorities believe that the construction of the reactor is satisfactory and that progress is being made on the issues raised.

The company says that "quality and safety" are its "absolute priority" and that "none of the points made by ASN has direct implications on the delivery of the project or on the safety of the future reactor".

However, the independent nuclear expert John Large says that the faults found on both the French and Finnish sites reflect a lack of recent experience in building nuclear reactors and that similar problems could arise when construction of a new generation begins in Britain.

The Royal Society of Chemistry confirms that a shortage of skills in nuclear construction "will put Britain's nuclear plans in jeopardy".

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own