System tests of a new reactor at Finland’s Olkiluoto powerplant are likely to be delayed, underlining fears of further rising costs.
Automation testing at the Olkiluoto 3 reactor, being built by French nuclear group Areva and German engineering and electronics group Siemens, was scheduled to commence this autumn.
However, according to Petteri Tiippana, director general of Finland's radiation and nuclear safety authority STUK, Areva still has plenty of work to do before it can begin automation tests of systems that will operate and monitor the plant.
The Olkiluto 3 reactor, one of the few nuclear projects currently underway in the European Union (EU) has already been delayed and suffered from soaring costs.
Earlier this year, Areva’s chief operating officer Philippe Knoche said the company planned to begin automation systems tests right after the summer, something Tiippana, responsible for ensuring safety at the plant, has now questioned.
"There is plenty of work to be done," Tiippana said, explaining the project's biggest problem was that "engineering of the plant systems and structures took more time than expected in the beginning".
He further explained that out of three steps involved in planning and testing the reactor’s automation systems, Areva was still at the initial stage of designing the architecture.
Spokeswoman for Teollisuuden Voima (TVO), the Finnish utility company operating the plant, confirmed there were problems. "Automation is the critical issue that is delaying all the other things," she said. "There are shortcomings and open issues with the detailed planning. It is Areva's job to finish these things so the automation can be taken forward."
Areva and TVO have traded accusations about who is to blame for the delays, and the International Chamber of Commerce's arbitration court is processing a dispute on the cost overruns between the consortium and TVO.
TVO originally estimated the reactor project would cost €3.5bn. Areva has so far booked €3.3bn of provisions on the project.
In February TVO said commercial power production was likely to start in 2016, around seven years behind an original schedule, due to delays in planning the automation systems. The reactor itself also has to be tested before the plant can start producing power.
The construction of Olkiluoto 3 started in 2005 and the first delays were announced early the following year due to problems in component production. The project has also suffered a series of relatively minor problems including poor concrete quality and the need to redo some welding.
Only three other reactors are currently under construction in the European Union. In France, Flamanville on the Normandy coast has also been hit by delays while two Russian-designed reactors are being built in Slovakia in a project dating back to the 1980s.
Since the Fukushima disaster, European regulators have carried out stress tests on nuclear plants across the continent and regulations for new reactors have been changed to incorporate lessons learned from the disaster, causing delays for some projects.
Countries such as Britain, the Czech Republic and Romania have programmes to build new reactors, although rising costs and quarrels over public subsidies for nuclear energy have cast doubt on these plans.