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Delays, defects, and “social dumping” in France’s Flamanville nuclear reactor

Post-Fukushima, France breaks silence on nuclear safety The Hindu VAIJU NARAVANE, 11 Oct 11“…….Construction of the Flamanville EPR reactor which began in 2007 is experiencing significant delays with a large number of accidents including two fatalities. The EPR reactor, of which India plans to buy six, will now not be completed before 2016 at the earliest and its price tag has climbed to an estimated €7 billion per reactor of 1,650MWe capacity. Not a single EPR is as yet operational.

Of the four currently under construction, (one each in France and Finland, two in China) the Finnish reactor (construction began in August1985) is now slated to go on stream in 2013 but costs have risen from €3 billion to over €7 billion and the Finnish utility TVO is locked in costly arbitration (€2.7 billion) with Areva…..

The problem is that after a hiatus of over 20 years when no reactor was built, the institutional memory, the know-how and the manpower which allowed companies like EDF to build strong and reliable nuclear power plants have been lost.

A 20-page report by the French Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN), has highlighted a series of “gaps and weaknesses” in work being carried out at the Flamanville site on the new European Pressurised Reactor (EPR).

A letter sent to EDF by ASN has pointed out a number of differences from construction requirements affecting 13 essential parts of the reactor, including the steam generators, water injection filters and batteries used for the cooling system.

Recently, the ASN asked EDF to re-do already completed concrete work on the cooling pools meant to accommodate spent fuel rods. Several fabrication defects were detected on the concrete pillars supporting the structure. Concrete walls were found to be fissured and ASN has asked EDF to change the method used to pour the concrete.

The ASN has also severely criticised the amount of outsourcing practised by EDF at the Flamanville plant. Unions say up to 80 per cent of the work is done by companies which have little or no experience of nuclear construction and that EDF picks the cheapest offer without verifying whether that service provider has previous experience of similar work or the requisite skills and competencies. EDF says it outsources 60 per cent of the work and in the post-Fukushima audit the company carried out of its own practices, it has promised to reduce the number of outside sources to three.

Socialist Euro-MPs who visited the Flamanville site recently decried what they called a system of “social dumping” practised by EDF — whereby under-qualified but cheap labour is brought in from the former Soviet satellite states in Eastern Europe such as Poland, Bulgaria, Hungary or the Czech Republic.

Euro-MP Estelle Grelier following a visit to Flamanville told reporters: “I went there to verify if working conditions were as poor as denounced by several unions and confirmed by the ASN. On site, our doubts were reinforced by the working practices of one of the subcontractors, Atlanco, which does work for construction giant Bouygues. The wages of Polish workers employed by Atlanco [a Cypriot subsidiary of an Irish temping agency whose services are employed by Bouygues], were taxed at source. All traces of these taxes taken off the workers’ wages have disappeared. I myself was contacted by a Polish worker who has not been paid for several months and who lives in appalling conditions without any social protection whatsoever. I was taken aback by the lack of supervision, of checks.”…

October 11, 2011 - Posted by | France, Reference, safety

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