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Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

While many look to France and Finland for the first signs of a possible nuclear renaissance, few are aware of the push forward, the nuclear industry and lobby are trying to make in Central Europe.

(608.5597) WISE Czech Republic
(April 16, 2004) - At present, discussions are going on about new reactors in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Romania, Bulgaria and Slovenia/Croatia. Lifetime extensions for existing reactors is already beyond debate in all the above mentioned countries including Hungary.

In the coming months, we plan to establish an overview of developments in each of these countries and investigate what roles the nuclear industry, national governments and Europe play. One interesting question is whether the German nuclear phase-out is driving nuclear energy producers eastward. On this occasion, we shed some light on developments in Slovakia.

Nuclear power in Slovakia
The state owned A1 reactor near the village of Jaslovske Bohunice was closed down in 1977 after a series of accidents and is to be decommissioned. Block V1's two older VVER 440/230 type reactors are currently operating under an agreement with the EU that they will be closed down in 2006 and 2008 respectively. The two reactors in the V2 block (both of the newer VVER 440/213 type) are regularly upgraded since three years ago. Near the village of Mochovce, Slovakia has two functioning VVER 440/213 reactors with an upgraded Siemens operating system, that went on-line after heavy resistance in 1998 and 1999.

All operating reactors are owned by the state-owned, but soon to be privatized, electricity generation company Slovenske Elektrarne (SE). At present, the Slovak Industry Minister Rusko states clearly that the successful bidder will have to buy SE in its entirety, including its nuclear capacity. Two contenders, the Russia's state-owned RAO-UES and state-owned Czech company CEZ, have expressed clear interest in the entire package.

Rusko subsequently offered other possible contenders the opportunity of upgrading their bids to include also the nuclear part of SE and contenders now also include Germany's E.On and the UK's International Power, although CEZ remains the front runner. This is partly based on the fact that CEZ knows the structure of SE very well (SE and CEZ were formerly one company), and has experience with all types of reactors in Slovakia. It is however possible that CEZ will decide to share part of SE operations with one of the other contenders, most likely RAO-UES.

Another condition Minister Rusko attached to the sale is the completion the blocks 3 and 4 at Mochovce, where building activity was stopped several years ago although the blocks are roughly 50% complete. As far as the IAEA is concerned, both VVER 440/213 reactors blocks still count as "under construction", but after political pressure, mainly from neighboring Austria, the prospect of the completion of these two blocks seemed extremely weak. Unfortunately, the tide now appears to be reversing. CEZ and RAO-UES have already reacted positively to Rusko's demand but so far the other contenders have made no official comments. An estimated 70 Billion-Slovak Crown (around Euro 1,7 billion or US$ 2.1 billion) would be required for the completion of these two blocks.

Gradual upgrading of Bohunice V2 started some three years ago and both blocks are, for the time being, scheduled to operate until 2024 and 2025. Observers in the country expect a further lifetime extension of 10 years, however.

According to former Greenpeace campaigner Lubica Trubiniova, Slovakia currently produces around 13% overcapacity, which is exported to neighboring countries with the exception of Austria with which no interconnection exists. It seems to be clear that two more blocks in Mochovce would increase Slovakia's overcapacity and therefore its position on the export market.

Discussions on V1
The closure of Bohunice V1 is still heavily debated. Party leader Robert Fico, the populist leader of the SMER ("Direction") party, who currently leads opinion polls, has stated clearly that he intends to keep V1 open and also backs the completion of construction work on Mochovce 3 and 4. The current government is seeking to avoid confrontations with Brussels and has thus committed to the closure dates of 2006 and 2008 after receiving the parliamentary backing a few weeks ago. A referendum for early elections failed to achieve sufficient support when held on 3 April. This means that the current government will probably serve its term until 2006, making it very difficult for Fico and his SMER party to prevent the closure of V1. Juraj Zamkovsky of Friends of the Earth in Slovakia however does note that the populist politician could still make a last minute attempt to keep V1 open if SMER are successful at the next elections. The first block at V1 is due for closure in the autumn of 2006 and the elections would also be held in autumn 2006 so it is technically feasible that Fico could reverse the decision to close V1 as his first act in government. Friends of the Earth and the public advocacy group CEPA are attempting to undermine the lobby to keep V1 open by working on alternative development scenario's for the region of Bohunice, which would also see all V1 personnel being offered good alternative employment.

Mochovce 3 and 4 in the nuclear debate
Economy Minister Pavol Rusko is not alone in pushing for Mochovce 3 and 4. His ANO ("Yes") party is likely to loose influence in possible upcoming early elections, but Fico's SMER and most political parties also support the idea although the reasoning is unclear. In part, nationalism plays a part, as does the argument on climate change. It is clear, however, that in the current capacity development, both blocks will add to Slovakia's overcapacity. Export possibilities currently mentioned focus mainly on former Yugoslavia.

It is clear that these two new blocks cannot be built without considering the European market situation. It is also clear that because much of the construction is already standing, it is unlikely that reactor types other than the VVER 440/213 will come under consideration. This partly explains the interest of RAO-UES and CEZ, who both have experience in building and running such reactors. What must still be clarified is whether these two blocks will also be fitted with Siemens operating systems or with another. It is not known whether the European Union will accept such outdated designs, although decisions in the area of design tend to remain a matter for the nation concerned.

For CEZ, the completion of Mochovce 3 and 4 would be an interesting option to bolster the fortunes of Czech engineering contractor Skoda Holding a.s, in which CEZ is majority shareholder. It would also keep its own technical expertise updated for the moment it starts to invest in new nuclear power in the Czech Republic, a move currently foreseen for the late 2010s. For RAO-UES, finishing Mochovce 3 and 4 is likewise interesting, as it could keep a foot in the door for future nuclear power plant orders in this part of Europe.

The position of E.On will also of great interest. E.On is actively cooperating with the nuclear phase-out in Germany, but has issued several warnings that this policy might lead to a shortfall in Germany's capacity by the mid-2010s. Owning nuclear overcapacity in Central Europe might be the cheaper option for filling that gap without having to face critical questions in Germany.

No anti-nuclear resistance
Presently the anti-nuclear movement in Slovakia is at an all-time low. Greenpeace stopped, at least temporarily, its energy campaign in the country last year and other environmental groups with interest in energy issues like Energia 2000, Za Matku Zem (For Mother Earth) or Friends of the Earth focus on the introduction of renewables and efficiency. None of the active national organizations has capacity on the nuclear issue. This might of course change should plans for further construction at Mochovce 3 and 4 become more concrete but until that time the nuclear lobby does not face much resistance.

It is clear, that the Slovak nuclear debate at the moment is mainly based on internal political arguments. Lifetime extension for Bohunice V2 and finishing of Mochovce 3 and 4 are very strong options in that debate. Early elections are expected to favor the nuclear lobby.

Source and Contact: Jan Haverkamp at WISE Czech Republic