Nuclear industry touts safety of new reactors

AP News
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Posted: Mar 28, 2011 2:39 PM
Nuclear industry touts safety of new reactors

Halfway around the globe from Japan's atomic emergency, engineers building a cutting-edge nuclear reactor along Finland's icy shores insist the same crisis could never happen here.

And that's not only because Finland is seismically stable.

The 1,600-megawatt European Pressurized Reactor projected to come online in 2013 in Olkiluoto, 195 miles (315 kilometers) northwest of Helsinki, is the first of its kind expected to begin operating after the Japanese disaster.

It has walls thick enough to withstand an airplane crash, components designed to tolerate the extreme cold of the Nordic winter, and decades worth of new safety systems.

"(We have) so many backup systems that the kind of accident like in Japan could not happen," said project manager Jouni Silvennoinen.

With the renaissance of nuclear power at stake, the atomic industry faces the challenge of persuading an increasingly skeptical public that new reactors like the EPR units being built by French company Areva in Finland, France and China are not just safer than the old ones but are virtually disaster-proof.

The state-controlled company has marketed its expensive new-generation reactor technology to the United States and developing countries from India to Saudi Arabia and Brazil. Since news of Japan's catastrophe, Areva's shares have fallen 12.4 percent, trading at euro31.49 midday Friday.