Where do new government parties stand on nuclear in Slovakia?
Factsheet by ‘CEPTA – Centre for Sustainable Alternatives’, April 2020After the elections held on 29 February 2020, the new Slovak government is composed of four new political parties. With exception of the party Sloboda and solidarita (in the Government 07/2010 – 04/2012), the remaining three political parties have not yet been part of the government before. All four parties support the completion of the Mochovce nuclear power plant (Mochovce NPP), but have mixed positions about further new nuclear projects. The strongest party, OľaNO, aims to amend the current ‘non-transparency particularly/only in the nuclear sector’.
Specifics of Russia-Hungary Nuclear Pact Disclosed, Christiana Maria Mauro
A year and a half after a suit was launched and five years after an agreement on the Paks II NPP expansion was signed between Hungary and Russia the Municipal Court of Budapest ordered the government to disclose the bulk of the contract. Following two deferrals a second instance verdict was reached in early February, 2019. On 28 March the publicly-owned Paks Ltd. released a redacted version of the 110-page EPC contract between Paks Ltd. and a subsidiary of the Russian state nuclear corporation Rosatom.
The Hungarian government first signed the agreement to construct two VVER nuclear reactors in Paks in 2014. Shortly thereafter the National Assembly adopted a proposal to classify the document for 30 years for reasons of “national security.”
Two of the government-friendly news outlets, Magyar Nemzet and Origo, neither of whom were parties to the suit, published commentaries about the Paks contract before the complainants themselves were even aware of its publication. Both sources reported that the “secret contract affair” had been “settled at last” and concluded that the contract appeared “particularly favourable to Hungary; with robust legal protections”.
But the measures – at times extreme – that Prime Minister Orbán has taken to keep a tight lid on the project specifics are curious for an investment with such favourable economic prospects. Also curious is the magnitude of funds that have been allocated to promote the project.
Access was denied to Bernadett Szél, leader of an opposition party and member of the National Security Council; many of the technical and financial conditions of the project were also unknown until the Freedom of Information Authority was asked to intervene. In 2017 Hungarian Dialogue MEP Benedek Jávor and Szél turned to the national Freedom of Information Authority (NAIH) to determine whether the “state secret” classification of the contract was justified. The bulk of the documents were declassified before the investigation ended, but the NAIH still supported the concealment of information that could have geopolitical consequences and a significant impact on both the country’s economic future and its safety.
On 13 January, 2014, the Hungarian government spokesman announced that the Prime Minister was in Moscow to discuss economic affairs with the Russian President. The following day Rosatom and Paks Ltd. signed the nuclear expansion agreement; it was declared that the Russian state bank would also provide a €10 Bln loan to finance 80% of the project under conditions that were not shared at the time. Government officials maintained, and continue to maintain, that the decision had already been authorized by the National Assembly in 2009. In reality, the resolution only consented to the initiation of preparatory activities for a nuclear expansion.
Many key impact studies and feasibility reports were kept under wraps prior to and following the signing of the agreement, and MPs and NGOs are still seeking access to expert opinions that, in principle, should already be accessible to the public. In principle, the government has the duty to make the contracts of all publicly-owned and publicly-funded entities public. In practice, the electorate has been entirely excluded from a decision with profound political and economic implications.
Paks II contract lawsuits
Benedek Jávor MEP has been fighting for access to the implementing agreements that stipulate the design, construction, operation and maintenance of the two VVER reactors since 2014 and launched a suit against the government and Rosatom in 2017. Under a first instance decision in May, 2018 it was established that Hungary’s Freedom of Information Act applies to international agreements as well as to national ones, and that the government could not justify classifying thousands of pages of a public contract. The Court also recognized that the MEP’s access requests had “not been abusive,” as the defence attorney had argued.
06 March 2017: EU Commission decided that state subsidies for Paks II are not illegal – legal challenges will follow both from the Austrian government and electricity utilities
by Joint Project (http://www.joint-project.org/)
At the end of 2015 the EU Commission started two infringement procedure concerning the NPP Paks. They were looking into the state aid for the construction of two units by Rosatom and the fact that this deal was agreed without a tender thus breaching European competition rules and excluding other competitors from delivering the plant or components.
However, today´s decision did not answer those serious problems but using wrong arguments declared this political deal legal. The EU Commission applies the wrong legal basis, because nuclear power is not a Common Interest of the EU member states. The EURATOM Treaty does not have any state aid regulations and therefore this issue is to be assessed under the TFEU, the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. If those two units will be built and connected to the grid, Hungary could increase the nuclear power share up to 86 percent. This is a severe economic disadvantage to the renewable energy production e.g. in Austria.
„The case is similar to the Hinkley Point NPP subsidy scheme, the EU Commission is obviously trying to introduce a special nuclear economic zone to make at least some nuclear new built possible. We welcome that some member states like Austria will challenge this decision in court, as some energy utilities will, because we are afraid, that some other member states might be willing to put public money into the construction of nuclear power plants,“ explained Patricia Lorenz. (For further information: firstname.lastname@example.org)
Joint project’s brand new background paper on state aid for nuclear newbuilt provides an overview over the Paks project and the possible consequences of this decision in other countries in the EU… Read more!
Nuclear waste – problems solved?
Joint Project event in Budapest on 15 Dec., 2016
Presentation by Zsuzsanna Koritár, Energy Club Hungary
Zsuzsanna Koritár´s presentation was delivered by her colleague Marton Fabok and focused on two topics, nuclear waste and Paks II.
The status of radioactive waste and spent fuel management in Hungary has not changed or improved recently, and Hungary is not closer to finding a solution than a couple of years ago.
The Euratom directive on Radioactive Waste and Spent Fuel Management and the related National Program require the elaboration of a nuclear waste strategy by each member state.
The other issue is Paks-2. The EIA procedure of the new blocks has recently been closed, the environmental license was issued in October. Energiaklub, together with Greenpeace, appealed to the Environmental Protection Chief Inspectorate; one of the main arguments was the unresolved question of spent fuel management. This appeal is still under scrutiny by the authority.
At the existing Paks NPP site Hungary intends to build two 1200 MW nuclear units, however, there is no concept or plan for handling the spent fuel, and what is even more serious: the environmental authority doesn’t require having one as a precondition for issuing of the environmental license. So the investment can be carried out, in spite of the fact that a final storage might not be possible in Hungary.
But not only final disposal is the problem. A question that needs to be answered much sooner is the interim storage of spent fuel. The existing Interim Spent Fuel Storage Facility, where the spent fuel of Paks-1 is currently being stored, is technically not suitable for the new type of fuel which would be used in Paks-2. According to the original EIA documents the interim storage facility should have been built in the narrow space between one of the existing and one of the new reactor units. This plan, however, poses a lot of safety and thus environmental questions, which have not been investigated by the EIA.
This summer an amendment was submitted by Paks-2 to the environmental authority, in which the location of the new blocks were shifted a bit to the north, thus the interim storage and the reactors are not so closely packed. However, this plan is still not reassuring, and its environmental impacts are still not investigated at all.
The other issue is the Hungarian National Program for radioactive waste and spent fuel management. According to the directive the National Program has to contain concepts, plans and technical solutions for radioactive waste and spent fuel management. The need for preparing it did not stem from the planned construction of Paks II but the introduction of the relevant EU directive. The reference scenario is domestic deep geological disposal, however, the national program does not proved any technical details about it.
The national program also mentions the interim storage of Paks-2 spent fuel:
„It is important that the environmental impact study assesses the site’s environmental impacts in combination with the interim storage.” Energiaklub´s opinion does not stand alone, but gets confirmation by the national program. However, this assessment has never been conducted. For obvious reasons it is very important to have a solution ready before the new NPP starts producing spent fuel and there will be no plan how to manage this fuel.
According to the Hungarian-Russian framework contract of Paks-2, there is a theoretical possibility to take the spent fuel to Russia for technological storage. However, there are serious doubts that this is realistic and reliable option at all.
Article 10 of the Euratom directive is about transparency and public participation in decision making. Unfortunately, the Hungarian national program chose a very narrow interpretation of this article by engaging only municipal associations in the surrounding of radioactive waste facilities. These associations receive financial support from the Central Nuclear Financial Fund. The National Program does not address any other municipality, organization or the wider public, when it talks about transparency or public participation.
The directive also contains provisions on the cost assessment and management of radioactive waste and spent fuel. This is unfortunately highly neglected in the Hungarian National Program. It doesn’t contain calculations, no assessment for the timing of the costs and the risks associated with the management of the Fund. One of the major risks, also pointed out by the State Auditory Office, is that the money on the account of the Central Nuclear Financial Fund actually does not exist physically. It exists only on paper, but there are no actual savings. This will put a huge burden on future generations, when the majority of the costs arise with the final disposal of spent fuel and decommissioning.
The last but not least important question is the export of spent fuel to Russia. Based on a 2004 agreement, Paks can transport spent fuel to Mayak for reprocessing. On paper this is also applicable for Paks-2; but not in reality, because there is no reprocessing facility in Russia which would be able to reprocess the new type of fuel of Paks-2 now or in the near future.
December 22nd, 2015:
A public hearing in the Council Hall of City Pécs in case of the planned nuclear fuel repository site and a peaceful protest of citizens took place. After canvass for subscriptions and political pressure the government-party´s mayor and his fraction had to face the public opinion. It was something like a „breaking-through“. A big audience listened to Joseph Kobor, who was the speaker.
September 2015, József Kóbor
Situation in Hungary
The Paks nuclear power plant (NPP) consists of two double blocks of soviet VVER 440 reactors which were built between 1979 and 1984. The originally 440 MW power output was upgraded to 500 MW. A serious incident occurred in 2003 when a cleaning tank (made by Siemens-Framatome) overheated and a lot of fuel rods shattered. The Russians finally solved the problem and the pieces of rods were shipped to Russia 1-2 years ago only, top secretly, presumably by air plane.
The matter of spent nuclear fuel rods was not settled. Formerly (in „socialist times“) the official position was that the Soviets (Russians) would take back used rods and Hungary would provide Russia with uranium (“yellow cake”) from uranium mine Pécs (South-West Hungary). A simple counter trade – they told us.
The first fuel crisis happened just when the disintegration of the Soviet Union took place in 1991: a train with used rods was sent back from Russia. The Paks NPP management blackmailed the Hungarian government to give extra money to build a temporary storage on the NPP site and to begin a project to look for a terminal storage.
The Paks NPP produces about 40-50 % of Hungarian electric power supply. Officially, it is considered the “cheapest” option because external diseconomies were not taken into account, nor the ageing costs and the depreciation of investments. The initial investment cost were never known exactly.
There has always been a very strong traditional “nationalistic” nuclear propaganda in Hungary. It is based on the reputation of a few outstanding nuclear physicists (Lev Szilard, Edward Teller, Eugen Wigner, etc.) who had to leave Hungary because of the anti-Semitic laws before WW2 and worked in the Manhattan-project in the USA.
Paks NPP‘s lifetime extension was supported by all political parties in the last period. Accordingly, the reactors are set to be decommissioned only between 2032 and 2037. The anti-nuclear LMP supported the decision only on condition that the share of renewables be raised at the same time.
The traditional political parties are pro-nuclear in Hungary. LMP („Politics can be different-Green Party Hungary“) got into the parliament as the first anti-nuclear Green party in 2010, with 7.2% of votes ratio. The right-wing Fidesz-party won an absolute majority at the same time. This government does nationalistic and populist politics: A new anti-democratic constitution and one-sided electoral law have been set unilaterally. Sad and interesting at the same time: they use a lot of anti-globalization terminology used by the Greens in the 1990-ies, but in reality they build a state monopoly capitalism.
The traditional left-wing parties and groups became discredited ranging from post-communism to neo-liberalism. The last left-wing Prime Minister in power between 2008 and 2010, Bajnai, tried to occupy LMP before the last elections as the leader of the left opposition and after that failed, he tried to dissolve it. LMP nevertheless got into parliament with only 5.3% in 2014.
Orbán-Putin Pact (contracted in January 2014): part of a very expensive gamble.
„Hungary has to be an energy exporter.
Hungarian energy has to be the cheapest in Europa
to make Hungary the most competitive.”
– these were the ideological „catchwords“ made up for the population.
Moreover, given the reduction of public utility costs: electricity, gas (Russian import!), water, waste management (about 10-15%), the population was welcoming this policy. Meanwhile, there is no trace of energy efficiency and energy saving investments – except where the EU supports such things.
The contract includes a 10 billion EUR loan over 30 years from Russia for two 1000MW-reactors with no payments due before 2023 when the reactors begin to work.
• A lot of secret pacts: LMP and some NGOs make a lot of actions of law and are trying to get the details
• Who will buy the energy when old and new reactors work together?
• Environmental issues, particularly with regard to cooling of the new units – it is planned with Danube water, not with cooling towers
• Political and security consequences
• And last but not least: nuclear waste
A high-level activity waste (HLW) and used nuclear fuel disposal is planned in South-Hungary. It is located in a semi-metamorphic sediment sandstone, about 8 km from the city of Pécs (150.000 inhabitants). This project is closely linked to the expansion of Paks NPP. There is a state company named “RHK” (Radioactive Waste Management Company) which is responsible for all kinds of radioactive waste. Low level waste and middle level waste management is relatively well known and regulated. The same company does the research work for the high level waste deposal in South–Hungary, but the concept is not clear. The regulatory board (Hungarian Atomic Energy Authority) and other authorities (the environmental protection authority is already absolutely “dead” in Hungary) are very passive and dependent on the political interests of the government
The National Nuclear Found is actually “virtual” money, which depends on the availability of the government’s financial interests. For instance, the government confiscated the private pension funds foundation and we fear that the same happened or can happen with the Nuclear Found as well. There is a discussion about it, but no public participation and real public knowledge. More exactly: the calculated amount of this money seems to be very far not enough.
As mentioned above, the planned disposal for HLW and fuel in South-Hungary would be near the city of Pécs (150.000 inhabitants), in a distance of about 8 km. Consultation meetings were made only with 8 little villages, but not with the City! The pro-government majority in the City Assembly and the mayor of Pécs balked the resubmissions of the opposition to initiate consultations with the RHK-Company. Recently, the LMP (together with several NGOs) organized the first public information meeting with RHK in Pécs.
The resistance against environmental degradation has tradition in Pécs. In the 90ies they stopped a chemical waste disposal site and about 8 years ago it was a very famous protest movement and referendum in case of a NATO radar station planned, which has been stopped. Now we once again have to create a political protesting atmosphere to mobilize the people.