French watchdog fears for reactor project skills

Monday, June 23, 2008

France’s nuclear safety watchdog intends to “make an example” of the country's first reactor project in 20 years, amid concerns that many of the skills for building nuclear power stations may have been lost.

The watchdog had ordered EDF, operator of France’s 58 nuclear power stations, to halt work three weeks ago after it discovered problems with quality controls and with the iron frame of the concrete structure being put in place by Bouygues, the French construction group.

The move showed that the NSA was taking an aggressive stance on the tiniest building infringement and will continue to do so.

Although there was no question over the safety of the reactor, the problems did indicate “a lack of quality and rigour”, André-Claude Lacoste, chairman of the NSA, told the Financial Times.

“Doing the civil engineering for a nuclear power station is not the same as doing it for anything else,” he said in an interview.

“This is the first reactor in 20 years and they have lost the habit. We wanted to show an example ... Delays are not our problem. EDF needs to take time to reflect on how it manages its construction works.”

Mr Lacoste said the “message has been heard” and an acceptable action plan to resolve the problems had been prepared.

The construction of the new generation, heavy-duty nuclear reactor is being followed closely by countries around the world as they consider launching their own nuclear power stations. The first EPR to be built in Finland is running two years behind schedule and significantly ahead of the budgeted €3bn (£2.4bn) costs.

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