(May 7, 2004) Of the nuclear energy producing countries joining the EU as new members, Hungary holds the unique and dubious honor of being the only one without ostensibly open public debate on new nuclear power stations.
(609.5602) WISE Czech Republic - The nuclear lobby continues to maintain a tight grip on Hungarian energy policy and the position of Hungary's nuclear power stations at Paks remains strong. Events on the evening of 10-11 April 2003 when an serious incident measuring level 3 on the INES scale occurred could have impacted on its standing but still, one year on, Paks's reputation remains untarnished and public debate non-existent. (See WISE/NIRS Nuclear Monitor 586.5507 "Serious incident at Hungarian Paks-2 reactor") In fact, preparations for the August restart of block 2 continue at full speed.
Hungary has four VVER 440/213 reactors, situated near the town of Paks, which began operation between 1982 and 1987 with projected life times of 30 years. The state power company MVM currently owns Paks but according to Ada Amon of Hungary's Energia Klub, discussions are in progress regarding the privatization of MVM or parts of it.
The Hungarian government is currently developing a new energy plan to be revealed this summer in line with EU policy requiring member states to produce updates on long-term energy policy every two years.
Two thirds, or about 6.000 MW, of electricity generation capacity needs to be replaced before 2015 when the lifetimes of coal powered capacity ends. If Paks' lifetime is not extended an extra 2.000 MW replacement would be required for its reactors and would have to close between 2012 and 2017.
In early April, WISE Czech Republic interviewed three leading Hungarian anti-nuclear activists, Andras Perger and Ada Amon of Energia Klub and Roland Csaki of Greenpeace Central Europe, who highlighted what they perceive to be the five main issues concerning Hungary's nuclear reality;
- The aftermath of last year's incident at Paks 2
- Life time extension and capacity upgrading of the Paks reactors
- Spent fuel
- The market position of nuclear power and the fact that Paks' capacity is flexibly used
Safety of VVER 440 reactors against terrorist attacks
Last year, Paks-2 had a major incident, in which fuel rods became overheated during a clean-up operation in an intermediate storage pool. The investigation into the incident is almost completed and according Roland Csaki, the problems appeared to be mainly systemic, meaning that no conscious operation mistakes were made.
Framatome, who conducted the clean-up and supplied equipment for the process, and the insurance consortium Atompool have offered a settlement of 12 billion Forint (around US$ 50 million) in an out of court settlement. However activists suggest that these funds not only have to cover the costs of repair, but also the outfall of production, which for 2003 was calculated on US$ 63 million. Furthermore, it is estimated that additional outfalls in 2004 will to amount to another US$ 60 million, however MVM's 2004 budget fails to indicate a loss since Paks-2 production was excluded.
Repairs have been proving more complicated than anticipated. In an earlier assessment, Russian nuclear fuel company TVEL had indicated that its preferred solution would be to stabilize the fuel and leave it alone. Since the Hungarian government no longer wishes to deal with Framatome, it chose TVEL and Russian contractor Hydropres, who now claim that the damaged fuel can be removed from the pond for US$ 4.5 million. There are strong indications, that this low price quote was made in an attempt to encourage Paks to stay with current fuel provider TVEL instead of changing to Westinghouse/BNFL which is now trying to move into the market of VVER 440 fuel. Moreover, the strong traditional links between TVEL and Paks probably had some influence - the present owner of TVEL's representative in Hungary is a former Paks director. TVEL is currently building a 1:1 scale model of the storage pond in Russia in efforts to discover the best method of removing the fuel. If TVEL does indeed succeed in removing the fuel, the question of what to do with it remains.
Capacity increase, flexible capacity use and lifetime extension
TVEL is also involved in the discussion concerning the capacity increase of Paks reactors, which was already increased to 480 MW by optimizing the turbine and second circuit. Plans have been made for a further increase to 510 MW - a level already reached at the Finnish plant at Loviisa. However, the jump at Loviisa was achieved due to the low temperature of incoming cooling water, which is not the case for Paks, which uses the warmer waters of the Danube. Instead TVEL and Paks propose an optimization of the fuel core, which TVEL has experience with in Russia.
Such investments in capacity increase can only be viable if Paks's original lifetime of 30 years is further extended. The government's anticipated energy plan proposes that the Paks reactors serve an additional 20 years. The final decision is expected in 2005.
The market position of the Paks reactors differs somewhat to surrounding countries. Czech and Slovak reactors are run to deliver maximum capacity constantly and modified coal and hydro-capacity meet changes in demand whereas in Hungary, Paks is used to balance out adjustments between capacity and demand.
Perger, Amon and Csaki suggest two reasons for this; the guaranteed bulk price for delivered base load from the country's coal generators and Hungary's long term import contracts for base-load electricity. In order to meet changes in demand, capacity of Paks is regularly run down, technically leading to a larger strain on the reactor vessel.
The combination of flexible capacity and increased top capacity poses questions on the quality of the reactor vessel in the long term and appears to conflict with the concept of life time extension.
In early April, Ada Amon and Russian anti-nuclear activist Vladimir Slyviak wrote an open letter to the Hungarian government urging it to reject a deal to resume the transport of spent fuel from Paks to the reprocessing facilities in Mayak, Russia. If the Hungarian government had wished to make such a deal, it would have had to do so before Hungary's accession to the EU. Government sources in Russia have reportedly stated that the deal has been canceled and that the spent fuel will remain in interim storage at Paks.
Hungary is working on its own nuclear waste storage facilities but there is as yet no clarity on possible locations. Greenpeace's Csaki mentioned that a public tender was issued in 2003 for an underground research facility for waste storage in a disused uranium mine near Pec and that public opposition in the region was small given the population's relationship with uranium mining.
VVER 440s as terrorist targets
Another issue not being discussed in public is that of the safety of VVER 440 reactors against possible terrorist attacks. The design does not include a concrete containment that could survive, for instance, the impact of a small aircraft but two reactor blocks are instead located in one building with an ordinary thick roof. Safety has to be delivered by the strength of the reactor vessel and piping itself, which makes Paks vulnerable to terrorist attacks involving large aircraft or rocket propelled bombs.
Hungarian nuclear power in an international market
Hungary was a net importer of electricity in 2004, mainly due to Paks-2's outfall, importing almost 10% of its annual capacity from surrounding countries. The approaching energy plan discusses life time extension of Paks combined with a partial replacement of coal capacity and to increase imports, Hungary is looking to the growing nuclear capacity of the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Romania and Bulgaria, for which an increase in cross connection capacity would be required. Efficiency and renewables are mentioned but without substantial plans although Hungary has a target of 6% renewables by 2010 that many seriously doubt can be achieved.
Hungary is the only country in Central Europe with an NGO specializing on energy issues that also deals with nuclear power: Energia Klub. Greenpeace in Hungary works on energy issues, including nuclear, on an ad-hoc basis, but there are plans for a larger Central European anti-nuclear campaign.
In addition, Hungary has some NGOs that see it as their duty to propagate nuclear power, like a group of physics students and Paks employees called FINA (Youth promoting nuclear energy). They follow the successful model of the Czech South Bohemian Fathers using educational activities to spread pro-nuclear propaganda into classrooms under the veil of objective information.
Hungary's nuclear lobby is strong and enjoys strong ties with both the present socialist government and the liberal opposition. It is a nuclear power nation to be reckoned with in the ongoing debate about Europe's energy future.
Source and contact: Jan Haverkamp at WISE Czech Republic
For additional information visit the Energia Klub website at www.energiaklub.hu