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June 24, 2008

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Regarding the racism or not of the French. A lot of what I've heard about French racism is that it's the casual kind, like talking about how 'articulate' a black person is. So, for example, you would have one guy of East Asian ancestry whom his French friends and acquaintences refer to as 'The little Vietnamese.' I've heard similar stories from other folks as well.

If, though, you could provide information that's more than anecdotal in another post, I'd appreciate it.

Caveat: I was born in the locality where the said nuclear plant is constructed, I know some of the people involved, and I still visit the place quite often, because my mother lives there.

Also, I've done work in nuclear industry myself (... at the good old Loviisa plant, which is of a venerable Soviet design) and my sister-in-law works at a relatively high level at the Posiva company, which is in charge of the waste management in Eurajoki (she's one of those few people who has a secure job for the rest of her life).

That being said, the case of the joint project of Areva and TVO at Eurajoki is, I think, unique, and it's not entirely clear where the real blame for the delay lies. Areva has blamed the Finnish TVO and the slow technical inspection for the delay in the construction. The project management at the TVO has, of course, blamed Areva.

Personally, I suspect that the situation is a result of both participants screwing it up equally. Areva has obviously dropped the ball, but let's just say that I also have some familiarity with the good people of the TVO and the way that things are run in that picturesque West Coast locality.

But anyway. I don't think that this really counts as a _characteristic_ example of how a construction project proceeds.

By the way, aside the French money, the project rests on Polish labour. About a thousand Polish guest workers have been injected to a small Finnish hamlet with five thousand inhabitants. The cultural exchange has been interesting; regular Roman Catholic services being held at a Lutheran Church named after Gustav II Adolf have been a particularly fun and ironic feature, at least me.

Plus, every time that I visit home I now have an opportunity to practice my Polish.


Cheers,

J. J.

I'd love to hear any more details about the project, Jussi: that sort of inside-baseball is fascinating.

The thing that strikes me about nuclear projects is that while they all seem to go over budget and over schedule in different ways, they all do seem to go over budget and over schedule.

Even the Flamanville plant in Normandy recently ran into hitches, although it remains to be seem how serious they become:

http://www.world-nuclear-news.org/RS_EdF_allowed_to_continue_concreting_2006081.html

It makes me wonder if there's something systematic going on, even if (as you say) the details of the delays seem very idiosyncratic. The FT gave one possibility:

“France’s nuclear safety watchdog intends to 'make an example' of the country's first reactor project in 20 years, amid concerns that many of the skills for building nuclear power stations may have been lost.”

http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/6681af9c-40bb-11dd-bd48-0000779fd2ac,dwp_uuid=70662e7c-3027-11da-ba9f-00000e2511c8.html

Would that description fit the Finnish story as well?

Apparently I have to take back my comment that the Olkiluoto project isn't characteristic.

The same hassle with the concrete base slab delayed also the construction work in Finland, and now it was actually repeated in Flamanville? And the same exact company, Bouygues, appears to be responsible in both cases.

The details of the Olkiluoto project would be too complicated to go through here, but the Finnish Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority did commission a report of the first stages of the project. The report is long and thorough; when it comes to the above-mentioned case of the concrete slab, one of the reasons that investigators found for the delay were communication problems.

In short: no one was sure who was actually in charge of the task, the training of the contractors was delayed, the work itself was delayed, the poor Poles were standing idle for several weeks with nothing to do and with no clear orders, and eventually, the Finnish sub-contractors and the FANP got angry and started to pick on each others.

The final comment of the investigation of this particular incident was: "instead of trying to develop their cooperation in order to solve the quality problems in the concrete, the participants have merely been looking for someone to blame."

This happened three years ago, and the report has been out for two years; and still, the same exact thing seems to have happened in Flamanville. Not only have the skills for building nuclear power stations (or their basic infrastructure) been lost, but apparently the simple ability to learn from one's mistakes has _also_ been lost.

A case of synchronicity in stupidity? Not without precedents, I'm sure.

So yeah, I guess that the description fits. The filmatization of the Olkiluoto project would actually make a magnificent comedy.

Cheers,

J. J.

The Economist had an interesting piece on nuclear energy a bit ago, maybe 6 months?

They had high hopes for the French-Finnish collaboration, in part because the goal was to produce plants that were more standardized. If that is still correct, these first plants could have "teething" problems, engineering issues that need working out, and future plants may have fewer ones. That said, Jussi comments make it sound like management problems and not engineering ones are the real issues.

All of this aside, the other point the article made is one that Noel made as well. Without some sort of strong subsidy or regulation, nuclear is still not competitive price-wise with coal or natural gas. The enormous capital costs of nuclear plants really drives up the price per kW-hr.

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