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Gas crisis abused by nuclear lobby in Slovakia and Russia

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Jan Haverkamp, Greenpeace EU energy campaigner

Shortly before the Russian / Ukrainian gas crises, the Kozloduy municipality had started a new offensive to re-open the closed nuclear reactors of Kozloduy 3 and 4. The mayor of Kozloduy sent a letter to the European and Bulgarian Parliaments. In Standart, a major Bulgarian newspaper, Head of the Kozloduy Exploitation Department Rasho Parvanov reminded on that occasion that "Even if permission is granted, to restart the units will take 6 months". Shortly before Christmas, it became clear that Kozloduy had not made any personnel redundant since the closure of the two blocks in 2006, in the continuing hope for a restart.

Greenpeace EU Unit - Then Russia and Ukraine cut off all the gas-flow to Bulgaria. On January 6, Bulgaria's president Georgi Purvanov announced to the BBC that Bulgaria would need to restart Kozloduy 3, 4 and had a right to do so under article 36 of the Bulgarian EU Accession Treaty, that leaves the possibility for emergency measures counter to the Treaty within a three year period after accession - though crucially, with consent of the European Commission. Purvanov said Bulgaria needed to reactivate the Kozloduy unit as "a more critical situation is hardly possible".

In the mean time, Slovakia had fulfilled its obligation in its Accession Treaty and shut down Bohunice V1's second reactor for good on December 31 in the evening. After an assessment by the G7 in 1992, Bulgaria and Slovakia were asked to close all VVER 440/230 reactors because of safety problems that cannot be repaired with upgrades, including the lack of a second containment. This obligation was included in the EU Accession Treaties of both countries.

Possibly inspired by the Bulgarian example, Slovak populist Prime Minister Robert Fico announced on January 10 after an emergency cabinet session that he wanted the reactor to be restarted to meet the crisis. In a short letter he had alerted the European Commission the day before that the Slovak government was contemplating the move. "Industry has had to severely cut production and provided there is no immediate change in the gas supply, the electricity sector will face a blackout that would bring the whole country to a complete crisis and standstill," Fico wrote in his letter to the Commission.

On the home front an around the clock information campaign from Greenpeace tried to explain to the Slovak population the harsh reality that nuclear electricity could not replace gas in any way. Slovak gas is mainly used for heating purposes, chemical industry and some transport. Less than 6% of Slovakia's electricity needs are covered by gas - virtually all of it peak-load that cannot be replaced by inflexible nuclear capacity. Greenpeace calculated that a restart of Bohunice V1 would bring per day several hundreds of thousands of Euros into the pockets of Slovak state operator JAVYS without addressing any of the gas emergency problems. The Slovak electricity distributors and the grid operator furthermore stated that there was no shortage of electricity, nor to be expected and that possible temporary shortages could easily be covered with imports.

Also the European Commission was not impressed. On January 14, DG TREN spokes-person Ferran Tarradellas explained to an amused Brussels press corps that re-opening of Bohunice V1 would be illegal because Slovakia's three year emergency clause in the Accession Treaty (article 37, similar to the one in the Bulgarian Treaty) had already expired and that it was unclear to the Commission how nuclear could play a role in meeting a gas emergency.

The Commission demanded Slovak Economy Minister Jahnatek to come with written proof instead of oral declarations. That same evening, Prime Minister Fico broke the line of his Economy Minister and announced that the decision would be postponed. Almost a week later, the idea was completely shelved.

On January 8, Bulgaria received support from Members of the European Parliament Ari Vatanen (France / Finland, active member of a Foratom organised nuclear lobby group of MEPs), Jan Zahradil (Czech) and Vladimir Urutchev (Bulgarian, former manager from the Kozloduy NPP) with a letter to Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs: "Now, the impact of the severe economic crisis is compounded by obstinacy and failure to take timely decisions that would have ensured safe, reliable, clean and affordable energy for today and the years ahead. We ask you to review the Kozloduy situation." On Sunday January 18, a small business-interest-led new political party organized around 6000 people to demonstrate in Sofia for the re-opening of Kozloduy 3 and 4.

Again, the European Commission was not impressed. At the same day, Bulgarian Euro-Commissioner Meglena Kuneva tried to explain Bulgarian parliamentarians that Bulgaria needs to submit a motivated detail request to the European Union and that the Commission needs to be convinced with arguments that there is indeed an emergency that can be addressed with such means. Bulgarian daily Dnevnik furthermore calculated that Kozloduy had spent already over 20 Million Euro in keeping the closed blocks in a state that would enable restart, apart from personnel costs due to keeping staff virtually in tact.

So, the discussion continues, but with gas starting to flow again on January 21, it is clear that chances for re-opening of any of the reactors remain close to zero. Greenpeace in Slovakia and the Green Policy Institute in Bulgaria reminded that larger energy efficiency and the use of renewable sources for heating purposes could prevent crisis situations like the one over the last weeks far cheaper and faster than any nuclear pipe-dreams. All it would need is political will and avoid being side-tracked by lobby groups.

Source: Jan Haverkamp, Greenpeace EU energy campaigner.
Jan Haverkamp, Greenpeace EU energy campaigner.

Andrea Zlatnanska, Greenpeace Slovakia energy campaigner

Petko Kovachev, Green Policy Institute, Sofia