Safety flaw in French design raises more questions about the Hinkley reactor

A nuclear power station being built in France using the same design earmarked for Hinkley Point in Somerset may have to restrict its output or could be abandoned because of the costs of correcting safety flaws, experts have warned. France’s nuclear safety regulator, the ASN, is testing the strength of steel used in the reactor pressure vessel at the plant in Flamanville in Normandy. An investigation is under way and a decision is expected next year.

Following last year’s warning from the French Institute for Radiological Protection and Nuclear Safety to France’s top nuclear safety regulator that there were “multiple failure modes” that could have “grave consequences” on the safety relief valves, which play a key role in regulating pressure in the reactor, Robin Pagnamenta, Energy Editor of the Times, reports today that EDF may have to cut output or walk away.


The Flamanville vessel is lowered into position

The regulator is concerned that the French manufacturer of the pressure vessel, Areva, used the wrong manufacturing method, allowing for the creation of weak spots in which there is too much carbon in the steel. The pressure vessel was placed inside the main reactor building in 2012. It is surrounded by thousands of tonnes of hardened concrete as well as other components, from which it would need to be cut.

Stephen Thomas, an expert in nuclear energy at the University of Greenwich said that the pressure vessel was “the most safety crucial piece of kit in a nuclear power station” adding that “There must be no credible possibility that the vessel should break. If it does the contents of the reactor would spill everywhere.”

The project at Flamanville, which has cost €10.5 billion (£8.9 billion) is six years behind schedule and €7 billion over budget. Thomas said that “That would be very bad for the economics of the plant,” said restricting the output would be very bad for the economics of the plant.

Juha Poikola is a manager at TVO, the Finnish company that built the first nuclear reactor using the EPR design used at Flamanville – the same design as proposed for use at Hinkley Point – but its pressure vessel was manufactured in Japan and has passed all necessary safety tests. He said that he expected French regulators to order EDF to cut the electric output from Flamanville to ensure that it is safe. The reactor could be approved for use running at 1,200 or 1,000 megawatts rather than its official 1,630MW capacity, for example.

Another option for Flamanville, would be to replace the pressure vessel, but huge costs would be involved: “In theory it is possible, but it’s the same as building a new plant,” said Mr Poikula. “When you have the primary vessel installed it’s impossible to replace it. I have never heard of it being replaced. It’s so costly.”

A joint statement from EDF and Areva said that they were confident the Flamanville reactor would be up and running in 2018.

The pressure vessel for Hinkley Point has not yet been manufactured.

Meanwhile the FT reports that a South Korean energy group is closing in on a multibillion investment in a new nuclear power station near Sellafield. Source (link would not embed)



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One Response to Safety flaw in French design raises more questions about the Hinkley reactor

  1. Pingback: The Times & Telegraph fears about Hinkley’s safety have been silenced – why? | Our Birmingham

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