A French weekly, Le Canard enchaine, has claimed that nuclear power giant Areva has known since 2006 that the steel in the reactor pressure vessel head construction for some of its build projects had high levels of carbon that caused the steel to be more brittle.
In early April it was announced by French nuclear regulator Autorite de Surete Nucleaire (ASN) that Areva had let them know that tests had discovered high levels of carbon in the steel in a reactor pressure vessel head similar to the one used at the Flamanville power plant construction site. The regulator said mechanical and chemical tests had found what was termed as “anomalies” in the steel during testing done in October 2014.
Further testing was to be conducted to ensure that the steel used in the Flamanville 3 EPR reactor matched required specifications, given the point that the anomalies, according to ASN, resulted in “lower than expected mechanical toughness values."
But the French weekly now reports that Areva was aware of the problem as early as 2006.
The Telegraph, a British newspaper, reported that Areva was aware of “a serious problem [that] risked compromising the solidarity of the heart of several of its reactors, including the EPR of Flamanville,” taking the quote from Le Canard enchaine.
Correspondence between the French Institute for Radiological Protection and Nuclear Safety (IRSN) and the ASN shows the problem was known far early than has been previously reported, the weekly claims. The IRSN called Areva’s silence over the issue “incomprehensible,” the Telegraph reported, noting “it proceeded with installing the 160-ton part, which takes six years to complete, instead of forging a new one.”
The same production process was used for two reactors in China and one in The United States – the Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant in Maryland, the Telegraph said.
Areva said it had not kept anything a secret. "If you're asking whether anything has been hidden, the answer is categorically non," a company spokesman told Le Monde.
Areva noted it had informed ASN with data on the high carbon anomalies in 2008, but they were not noted as a high priority at the time.
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