(May 7, 2004) The Bulgarian government has given the go-ahead for re-start of the scheme to build a new nuclear power plant at Belene before an acceptable conclusion is reached on the risks and negative impacts on environment, health and economy.
(609.5607) CEIE/CEE Bankwatch Network - On 4 May, the final public hearing on environmental impact assessment (EIA) report for the construction of Belene NPP took place in Sofia and was attended by about 100-150 people, many of them from the EIA report team, nuclear industry and scientific circles. Despite the attempts of the panel to keep the hearing at a slow, non-emotional and almost sleepy pace, environmentalists and citizens were able to engage in the discussions.
The hearings in the countryside were better attended. In Pleven, Belene and Nikopol the vast majority of people supported Belene as they see the project as a potential source of employment that could raise their living standards. In Svishtov, the town in which mass protests led to the "freezing" of the construction in 1990, a number of people and NGOs expressed opposition to the project. More than 100 questions tabled have yet to be answered conclusively.
The EIA report can be classified as one of the worst presented for a nuclear power plant project. The number of ambiguous statements such as "We don't have enough information to prove…", "Additional investigations are requested to proof that…" "The data for present status of… is missing", etc. is incredibly high in the almost 1500-page report and most important questions, including those on spent fuel management, remain unanswered.
The evidence presented on the impacts on the river Danube was inconclusive and no bio-monitoring analysis was carried out on the areas of Belene and Kozloduy (for compatibility). The impact of seismic threats such as Vrancea in Romania also appears to have been undermined.
The lack of detailed information on reactor types under consideration for the project means that no effective risk assessment can be made on the possible impacts to the environment and public health. The EIA report team argued that lack of complete data on reactors and safety systems is because the process is still in the preliminary stages. Nevertheless, they did not hesitate to make positive conclusions about reactors that have yet to be constructed such as the Russian's B-407 and B-466 (an adaptation of a previous reactors design) or the Canadian CANDU, subject of completely opposing assessments from different specialists - from being as dangerous as the Chernobyl type reactor to being the safest in the world.
The question of the risk from terrorist attack was not assessed at all. It is stated that the containment could withstand a crash of a small plane but no evaluation was made regarding large aircraft in targeted air attacks. It is well known that the Bulgarian air force is not in a position to prevent an attack similar those seen in New York in September 2001. The government is presumably relying on support from the projected NATO/US bases in Bulgaria.
The assessment of "zero alternative", i.e. not building a new plant, is narrow-minded and provocative. The authors assume that "zero alternative" refers to the construction of 1000-2000 MW fossil-fueled plants instead of the Belene NPP and failed to consider alternative solutions. As a result there is crazy speculation that without Belene, Bulgaria will become a significant contributor to climate change in the future!
Many experts - economists, NGO representatives working on development issues, energy experts - agree that economical part of the project is also unclear and impose more unanswered questions. Besides the misleading statements on the bright socio-economical future of the region around the Belene NPP, there are other questions requiring immediate comment such as:
- What guarantees did the Bulgarian government receive from potential constructors, investors and operators that their project proposals pricing electricity at 3-4 Euro cents are achievable?
Why the government chooses to make a long term investment of 3-6 billion Euro (depending of the number of units) instead of a shorter term investment of some 2-2.5 billion Euro in action plan for energy efficiency and renewables?
One Bulgarian MP and a number of NGOs have claimed that the EIA procedure itself has been manipulated siting the contract for the EIA report, the review period for the report and lack of public hearings in many big towns within the 100-km zone among the reasons. Moreover, even the Minister of Energy and Energy Resources, Mr. Milko Kovatchev, agreed that there is a need for more EIA studies once a specific reactor design has been selected. But the current Bulgarian Environmental Protection Act does not specify such an extensive procedure and the main treat is that once a positive decision is in place, there are no binding mechanisms for re-opening the procedure for new detailed assessments.
ALLEGATIONS OF CORRUPTION
Bulgarian Minister of Energy Milko Kovachev requested on 30 April that authorities investigate allegations of corruption made by Canadian company Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. (AECL) concerning the procedures used by Bulgaria to select a contractor for a second nuclear plant. Kovachev also asked AECL to send him a copy of the unsigned letter it claims to have received, which reportedly stated that Bulgarian officials wanted between US$40 million and US480 million for granting the tender. In a letter to AECL President Robert van Adel, Kovachev said that any hint of corruption or attempt to influence the competitiveness of the negotiation process may discredit the Belene nuclear plant project. Furthermore Kovachev asked Bulgaria's prosecutor to order an investigation into the case.
Bulgarian News Network, BNN, 30 April 2004
KHAN, URENCO AND PROLIFERATION
Greenpeace International has published a new report on the relationship between Urenco's uranium enrichment and the proliferation of nuclear weapons. A.Q. Kahn, Urenco and the proliferation of nuclear weapons technology is written by Henk van der Keur (Laka Foundation), Karel Koster, Frank Slijper (Campaign against Weapons Trade) and Joop Boer. The 40 page report gives an extensive reconstruction of Khan's work at the Dutch Urenco branch, the theft of centrifuge designs and his connections to European companies and persons (see WISE/NIRS Nuclear Monitor 603.5575: "Khan, the Dutch connection"). One chapter deals especially with his personal network, set up during his time in Europe. One of these contacts, Dutch businessman Henk Slebos, was frequently mentioned in connection to Libya's secret nuclear weapons program over the past months. The report also gives an overview of Urenco's history and concludes that Urenco's centrifuge technology ended up in Pakistan, Iraq, North Korea, Iran and Libya through espionage. The Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and international relations are subjects of the last chapter. The Urenco case shows the ambiguity of a "non-proliferation" treaty that also includes the promotion of nuclear energy. Attempts to realize disarmament are on the other hand also undermined by other political relations between official nuclear weapon states and 'illegal' nuclear weapon states (U.S. - Pakistan; Russia - Iran).
The report can be found through a link at the website of Laka Foundation (www.laka.org/teksten/khan.html).
Thousands of people gathered in the capital of the Ukraine to remember the 18th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster. Many brought pictures of relatives that had died or that still suffer from health problems. WISE/NIRS Ukraine organized several meetings in schools, universities and libraries in the region of Rivne (site of Rivne NPP). On a weeklong tour, information was given on Chernobyl, waste and renewable energies. On Earth Day (22 April), WISE/NIRS Ukraine participated with other NGOs in actions.
Halo noviny, 26 April 2004; WISE/NIRS Ukraine, 2 May 2004
WISE Russia (Ecodefense) protested on 22 April in front of the Ministry of Industry and Energy. The aim of the action was to demand a review of plans for the construction of up to 40 new reactors by 2030. Around 30 activists hanged banners and unfortunately two were arrested.
WISE Russia, 30 April 2004
Friends of the Earth Germany (Bund) made an appeal to European Union accession countries Lithuania, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Slovenia for the closure of unsafe reactors in those countries. The five countries became members of the EU on 1 May. Bund wants the closure dates of Ignalina and Bohunice to be earlier than presently planned and also other reactors to be included in the phase out programs. Bund has asked the German government to support a phase out and prohibit German companies from contributing to lifetime extension work in the countries.
Press release Bund, 25 April 2004
In France, actions were held at several nuclear sites. Some 2,000 people from France, Germany and Switzerland demonstrated near the French Fessenheim NPP at the beginning of the tour de France for a nuclear phase out (see WISE/NIRS Nuclear Monitor 604, page 8). 200 people demonstrated near the decommissioned Brennilis reactor and smaller rallies were held in other cities.
AFP, 24 & 25 April 2005
Also in France, the independent radiation group Criirad called on the government to disband a government-appointed working group studying the Chernobyl fallout in France. The charge concerns the controversy over the level of contamination in France and whether authorities had reacted properly (see WISE/NIRS Nuclear Monitor 566.5395: "Disinformation on Chernobyl fallout in France"). Criirad believes that the government in 1986 deliberately ignored the risks to avoid panic and protect the nuclear industry. The working group was established in 2002 to resolve the issue but is plagued by internal disagreements. Criirad is convinced that if the working group continues, its work will amount to a "state lie".
Nucleonics Week, 29 April 2004
Notably on Chernobyl day, 26 April, Ukraine's minister for Energy Serhiy Tulub announced that the government is considering the construction of a new reactor by 2010-2012. The new 1000 MW is planned as third unit at the Khmelnitsky site, where a second reactor will be completed this year. Nevertheless he had the 'courage' to claim that "we have learned the lesson of Chernobyl".
AFP, 26 April 2004
In the meantime, the IAEA announced a new project, the Chernobyl forum, whose task will be to give "transparent statements that show the factual situation". The forum of the IAEA, Ukraine, Russia, Belarus and other U.N. organizations will review all existing studies and, according to Reuters News Agency, "filter out the good, throw out the bad and present a clear summary to next year's U.N. General Assembly". That does not sound very promising….
Reuters, 27 April 2004