The Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA) seeks to publicise an important report recently published by the French public spending watchdog and promoted yesterday in the French media. It should be of real interest for the UK media, the UK Planning Inspectorate considering the Sizewell C reactor scheme, the UK Government and UK nuclear regulatory agencies.
The report by the French Cour des Comptes, equivalent to the National Audit Office in the UK, provides a remarkable level of criticism of EDF Energy’s European Pressurised Reactor (EPR) design and construction process that is being planned for the Hinkley Point and the Sizewell sites. (1)
In the two locations where the EPRs are being constructed – Olkiluoto in Finland and Flamanville in France – they are both many years behind schedule and billions of euros over budget. The report by the Cour des Comptes is a sober analysis of the EPR technology and the failings of EDF Energy in trying to develop it into a robust and safe new nuclear reactor.
Amongst the core conclusions of the report by the French auditor are:
- The EPR technology is a “failure” with “huge” financial consequences and implications for the French nuclear industry and beyond.
- EDF and Areva were in divisive competition with each other in wanting to build a series of EPRs. This rivalry led to a “bidding war” and a vast underestimate of costs, along with an “unrealistic” timetable to build new units.
- Construction at Flamanville went ahead when only 10-40% of the necessary assessments had been completed.
- EDF said it needed 5 million hours of engineering when “in fact it would take 22 million” hours.
- The auditors said EDF was disorganized and unprepared to develop the reactor. EDF’s oversight at Flamanville as a self-styled “architect builder” led to “confusion” and until 2015 there was no specific entity “responsible for ensuring that the objectives of the technical and financial framework of the project were respected”.
- It was only four years after construction had started at Flamanville that EDF began to “track expenditure” and a further year on before it “estimated completion costs”. The firm’s board rarely discussed the project even when it was alerted to problems, the report says.
- The risks following the discovery of excessive carbon in the lid of the reactor vessel, vital for nuclear safety, were “poorly assessed and consequences poorly qualified”.
- EDF is currently grappling with sub-standard welding on the Flamanville reactor, which has added €1.5bn to the cost of the reactor. The report notes that EDF knew about this issue as early as 2013 but did not inform France’s ASN nuclear safety regulator until 2017.
- Such problems arise from the amount of time it has been since previous reactors were built – a loss of human capital – as well as the more stringent safety measures brought in since the Fukushima disaster.
EDF have argued they have learned from their mistakes and have develop an improved version of the EPR (the EPR2), which the UK would benefit from through Hinkley Point C and the proposed Sizewell C. However, the Cour de Comptes argues: “We cannot establish with a reasonable degree of certainty that the construction savings of the future EPR2s compared to the cost of construction of Flamanville-type EPRs will be realised.”
The auditors argue EDF can only build another EPR with some kind of public funding guarantee from government. They note that the estimated costs of power generated by new nuclear units would have to be cost-competitive to justify asking consumers and taxpayers to pay through their energy bills and taxes.
This report needs to be read carefully by the Planning Inspectorate who are currently considering whether two EPRs can be built at Sizewell C in Suffolk. It should be read by the Office for Nuclear Regulation and the Environment Agency given the plans to start constructing an EPR at Hinkley Point. And above all the report should be read by the UK Government as it considers providing billions of pounds of taxpayer financial guarantees to EDF through its proposed Revenue Asset Base funding model.
NFLA are also taking a real interest in the current behaviour of EDF Energy in reference to pressure it is putting on the Environment Agency over the construction of acoustic fish deterrents (AFDs). These would protect fish and marine wildlife from the EPRs being planned at Hinkley Point. EDF is trying to renege on its commitment to install AFDs and is seeking a variation on the planning conditions imposed.
EDF claims that the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (CEFAS), the Government’s marine and freshwater science expert body, is happy for them to go ahead without AFDs.
However, as the Wildfowl and Wetland Trust points out: “CEFAS’s relationship as a paid contractor to EDF and an agent of Government raises unavoidable questions of conflict of interest”.
As the group Stop Hinkley note, the Environment Agency has now said it will not accept EDF’s application for a variation to the Development Consent Order (DCO) in this area. The Agency says it does not accept the position in the CEFAS Report that not using an AFD would cause no negligible impact on fish stocks.
NFLA share that view. However, rather than fulfilling the original planning condition, EDF is trying to get the Agency’s decision overturned by the Planning Inspectorate. (2)
Such behaviour, given the wider and huge problems that EDF has experienced with its EPR construction in France and Finland, does not bode well for its plans at Hinkley Point C, nor at Sizewell C, should it be given approval.
NFLA Steering Committee Chair, Councillor David Blackburn said:
“The detailed report by the French auditor on EDF’s problems in developing its EPR nuclear reactor in France and Finland outlines a shocking level of ignorance and quite arguably real incompetence. The huge cost overruns should be being considered carefully by the Planning Inspectorate and the UK Government, while the design problems need to be looked at by UK nuclear regulatory agencies. The current pressure being put on the Environment Agency by EDF to remove acoustic fish deterrents from being built is of great concern, given the essential need to protect fish and marine life for the planned 60 years operation of Hinkley Point C. This also does not bode well that UK construction of EPRs will be any better than the French or Finnish experience. Environmental groups and Councils should support the Environment Agency in standing up to EDF and protecting the local marine environment.”
Ends – for more information please contact Sean Morris, NFLA Secretary, on 00 44 (0)161 234 3244.
Notes to Editors:
(1) Montel News, 12th October
(2) Stop Hinkley Media Release, 8th October 2020