nuclear safety authority until 2017 .
The welding saga illustrates how the nuclear industry has suffered from a “ loss of human capital ” on the one hand – it ’ s 30 years since France built a reactor – and more stringent post-Fukushima safety demands on the other , says Aurelien Saussay , an economist at the London School of Economics Grantham Research Institute .
“ Those welds would have passed inspection when the EPR was designed ,” he says . Now , in a tougher safety environment , “ the people with the practical experience of building the French reactor fleet in the 1980s have all retired . This loss of human capital takes years to rebuild ”.
Some industry insiders say EDF has learnt lessons from the mistakes made at Flamanville and elsewhere . The firm launched a EUR 100m action plan to improve the manufacture of reactor equipment and construction last December following a critical governmentcommissioned audit of the new EPR last year .
The utility is now touting a revised version of the EPR and drawing up plans to build six of them in France over the next 15 years , which it estimates will cost EUR 46bn . Known as EPR2s , these reactors , it says , will be simpler and cheaper to build .
Yet the auditors at the Cours des Comptes take a different view . “ 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 .”
EDF alone cannot finance the building of new reactors without some sort of public guarantee , the auditors say . But the estimated costs of power generated by new units would have to be competitive to justify asking consumers and taxpayers to cough up , it adds .
And given that nuclear costs are rising while those of renewables are falling , “ it doesn ’ t make sense at all for EDF to go ahead with more EPRs in France compared with pulling their weight towards renewables ”, says Saussay . This didn ’ t mean there was no future for the EPR , however . Far from it .
“ The only way that the EPR plans will be shelved is if EDF goes through a dramatic bankruptcy procedure just as Areva did … EDF is a company with tremendous pride and a great history . They don ’ t want anyone else teaching them what to do , especially not pesky auditors from the Cours des Comptes who have no power of sanction ,” he adds .
Watch this space . n