In 1983, Siemens KWU published a cardmodel kit of the Konvoi nuclear plant design. The initial print run was 5000 but, since the kits proved to be extremely popular, a further 120,000 were printed. Following on from this success, at the end of May this year, Framatome ANP unveiled the cardmodel of its European Pressurized Water Reactor (EPR) to be built at Olkiluoto on the west coast of Finland. Once again, sales of the kit have exceeded expectations, with around 600 sold in the first month after it was finally released in mid-September.

Siemens KWU commissioned cardmodel designer Thomas Pleiner to publish the Konvoi model and some 20 years later, Thomas Rothe, manager of marketing communications at Framatome ANP GmbH (an Areva and Siemens company), decided to repeat the exercise as soon as the first EPR was ordered. “When we had the contract I got a small budget and we simply did it,” Rothe told NEI.

Besides other communication tools such as brochures and posters, the cardmodel also fulfils an important role in making the EPR known to the public. “It’s not our job to sell paper models; it’s simply another type of brochure,” Rothe explained. “We think this kind of model will help to promote the idea of nuclear because you can use it especially at schools and universities for understanding how a nuclear power plant is structured, how it works, and where the different components are located. A three-dimensional (3D) model is always better than a poster – you get a better feeling for the dimensions. I really was astonished when I put one of those small-scale people into the turbine hall, then I thought: ‘Oh, wow, it’s really huge’.”


The level of detail that the EPR cardmodel kit goes into is quite hard to believe. There are three versions, at 1:350 scale, that can be assembled:

  • Basic version – approximately 220 parts, straightforward architectural model only showing facades. Assembly time ~ 55 hours.
  • Extended version – approximately 2150 parts, removable roofs, with some components extractable.
  • Highly detailed version – 3175 parts, similar to the extended version, but with 3D piping, 3D representation of steel girders and roof racks, 3D windowing, nearly complete interior of reactor building (above reactor floor), with turbine building and fuel pool building represented, two emergency diesel generators can be assembled in full detail, three 3D turbine rotors with blading, Castor docking vehicle, all internal cranes fully detailed plus external portal crane, and four transformer types represented in full detail. Assembly time ~ 240-310 hours.

Those who are familiar with the 1154-part Konvoi model will have some idea of the challenge the ‘highly detailed version’ represents. “After all,” the EPR model kit instructions point out, “Rome wasn’t built in a day.”

The reactor (Cerenkov radiation not supplied)


According to Rothe: “It was a heartfelt project for the designer because he did the Konvoi model and he was really keen to do it again for the EPR. As we like to show the development of nuclear technology from Konvoi and N4 to the EPR, he showed the development of cardmodelling from the Konvoi model to the EPR model. There are many achievements in the model itself that make it much more realistic than the Konvoi one.”

Pleiner explained the main differences between the two plant models. “In 1983 the kit was completely designed by hand. You have an acetate sheet on your desk and you’re doing all the work with ink pencils, rulers and so on. And now everything is done digitally – from the first step, up to the printing plates.”

According to Pleiner, the main advantage of this switch from the drawing board to the computer is the precision of the drawings. “Twenty years ago the precision was OK, but now you have much, much higher precision in drawing because it’s all based on digital tools.”

Before Pleiner could begin making the model, Framatome ANP had to supply him with several things: 2D drawings and plans, along with 3D vector-based ‘IGS’ files created in MicroStation software. Pleiner then imported the files into the 3D software he uses “to create the whole thing in a virtual 3D reality and to unroll all the surfaces and export them to a graphic application.” All the colouring and shading is then carried out before creating PDF files to give to the printer. “This was the first moment when you have in hand something really physical and not just only a virtual model.”

As in many other areas that have been revolutionised by advances in computer technology, the workload is not reduced because, while some previous time-consuming tasks can be done at the click of a mouse, the technology opens up a whole new world of possibilities that didn’t previously exist. For example, computer technology allowed Pleiner to work with a changing design for the EPR model, which would have been almost impossible 20 years ago. “When I worked on the Konvoi model, we already had two plants erected in Germany and the last one was under construction. It was different with the EPR because it had been still in the final design process, in particular regarding architectural details.”

Pleiner continued: “It’s not easier or quicker, it’s different. It’s a little bit more complicated because you have to keep in mind all the features the different software tools can give you and this expands the workload a bit. You also have to have in mind that in those days you had a really big drawing desk and now you have a 20-inch screen or two. Back then you had the whole thing in one glance, but now you have to scroll around the screen and change files. It’s totally different work and it’s actually not easier.”

But one thing that hasn’t changed is that the model designer must still be able to keep an overall vision of the final product in his mind’s eye, and how the final kit will be assembled. “You have to have in mind what the sheets will look like when they are printed and this can’t be done by any software,” Pleiner said.


As with the nuclear industry, the popularity of cardmodelling fluctuates over time. Rothe said he doesn’t expect the EPR model to become as popular as the Konvoi one, since he believes fewer people are interested in the hobby of cardmodelling. “I do not expect that we will print so many of the EPR because unfortunately the heydey of the cardmodels is over,” he said. The print run of the EPR kit was 5000 – as was the initial print run of the Konvoi kit. “Of course, if we sell all 5000 in one year, then there will be a second issue.”

Germany has a long tradition of cardmodelling. Even now, several publishers – one of them dating back to 1835 – regularly issue new models. The art of cardmodelling grew also under former East European communist regimes, according to Rothe. “There’s a good community in Poland, for instance, as there was in the former East Germany, because in communist times plastic models were extremely expensive. They couldn’t afford them and they didn’t manufacture them in the Eastern European countries. But paper was cheap and thus there was a real paper model culture, especially in Poland. There are at least two or three publishers in Poland still doing quite magnificent cardmodels.”

But Pleiner believes the tide is turning. “Presently we have a worldwide comeback of cardmodelling,” he said, “but the model makers themselves are dying out. The average age of a cardmodeller is more than 40.” In this area at least, cardmodelling is following the example of the nuclear industry! Perhaps it is possible that a renaissance in nuclear could lead to a renaissance in cardmodelling.

Between 1975 and 1991 Pleiner’s main occupation was in cardmodel design. “I’ve published over 120 different items – aeroplanes, ships, architectural items and so on. And since 1991 this changed a bit as cardmodelling design became my second string.” The reason for this change is not down to a lack of demand, Pleiner said, but that “there’s a price limit that the modeller is willing to pay for a cardmodel. If you compare this to the amount of time that you have to invest in designing a model, it’s a non-profit job for the designer.”

The price of the EPR model varies from supplier to supplier. (Only orders for over 20 model kits can be bought from Framatome ANP, but a list of suppliers is available on the website of Framatome ANP GmbH.) According to Rothe: “We didn’t recommend a price; we would like it as low as possible so we can attract as many people as possible.” He said that the average price is about €25 – exceptional value for money for enthusiasts. Of this, something like €5 will be donated to the restoration of the Finnish Vuojoki Mansion, a 19th Century neighbour of the Olkiluoto units.

Win an EPR

We have one EPR cardmodel kit to give away courtesy of Areva/Framatome ANP. For a chance to win, send your name, subscription number and postal address either by email to or on a postcard to:

The Editor,
Nuclear Engineering International,
Wilmington House,
Maidstone Road, Sidcup,
Kent DA14 5HZ, UK.

Entries must be marked ‘EPR competition’ and received by 1 December 2004.