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“New generation” nuclear renaissance is just not happening

Problems Plague Launch of ‘Safer’ Next-Generation Reactors

SPIEGEL ONLINE By Dinah Deckstein, Frank Dohmen and Cordula Meyer Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan. 15 Oct 09

The executives of electric utilities worldwide are dreaming of a renaissance in nuclear power. But problems with a new, state-of-the-art reactor in Finland suggest that this is unlikely to happen. The industry’s alternative strategy is to modernize older plants to drastically extend reactor lifetimes.

The managers at Finnish electric utility TVO expressed one last wish before ordering what would be the world’s largest nuclear power plant from Siemens and the French nuclear power conglomerate Areva. They wanted the reactor to be painted oxblood red and white, the traditional colors of the picturesque summer homes on Finland’s western coast.

At least the two companies have managed to fulfill that request. Workers are currently securing colored panels to the turbine building. Otherwise, not much is going as it should be on Europe’s biggest nuclear construction site. TVO and the two manufacturing companies are involved in a heated dispute, as they battle over billions in out-of-court settlements. Costs have exploded, and the project is already several years behind schedule. Critics accuse the consortium of having made dangerous mistakes. The concrete, they say, is porous, the steel is brittle and some of the design principles seem so risky that experts from the Finnish nuclear regulatory agency can only shake their heads in wonder.

TVO and Areva are doing their best to create the impression that everything about the project is fine. Floodlights illuminate the future reactor building, convoys of cement mixers criss-cross the site, and workers wearing protective jackets walk around, speaking Polish, Finnish, German, French, Slovak and Serbo-Croatian. In the administration building next to the construction site, TVO project manager Jouni Silvennoinen recites one superlative after the next……………

In reality, however, the problems with this showcase plant are bad news for the nuclear industry, which has been hoping for a comeback of its large-scale technology. Olkiluoto was meant to be its model for the future, but now those hopes appear to have been dashed.

Nuclear industry executives in the industrialized countries are not pinning their hopes on new plants as much as on a sort of low-cost renaissance. The want to see their aging plants, built in the days when VW was still making the Beetle in Germany, simply continue to produce electricity well beyond the end of their originally planned lives. http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/0,1518,655409-2,00.html

October 16, 2009 - Posted by | business and costs, Finland | , , , , , ,

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