You are here


Nuclear-free Austria stops import of nuclear electricity

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Reinhard Uhrig

Austria’s people decided in a national referendum in 1978 against the start-up of the nuclear power plant in Zwentendorf, which resulted in a constitutional law (Bundesverfassungsgesetz Atomfreies Österreich, 1998). On the other hand, Austrian utilities recently imported large amounts of “dirty” electricity, in particular from the Czech Republic as well as from Germany – including at least 5 % of nuclear electricity.

Electricity in the EU can be traded separately from its guarantee of origin. On the first impression, this system sounds complicated as it makes the process of trading much more complex (issue of certificate, trading of certificate and cancellation of certificate as well as de-labelling the original source of the certificate). On second thoughts the system is simply not working – the general idea of electricity certificates was that by making certificates (guarantees of origin) tradeable separately from the electricity itself, extra revenue would be generated for renewable electricity and hence the investment in renewable energy sources would be supported. As the experiences with renewable electricity certificate systems show not just in the EU, but also in the US, there is no noticeable extra support for “new renewables” through this system, rather customers who are willing to pay a premium buy the renewable parts of the electricity mix, and in particular industry customers buy just anything they can get cheap, including nuclear electricity (as long as it is still heavily subsidized). Electricity certificates are mostly issued for renewable sources, but also for nuclear and fossil generation.

We started off from the position of thinking that electricity certificate systems in general are a stupid and not functioning system, but as there is no major overhaul to the system on the EU-level in sight, we thought it better to reform the system (on a national level) than to carry on lamenting, at the same time closing the worst loophole in the electricity certificate law for the import of nuclear electricity:

Legal aspects of (nuclear) electricity certificates
The Renewables Directive of the EU (2009/28/EC) defines in Article 15 that electricity certificates can be traded separately from the electricity itself. The Electricity Internal Market Directive (2009/28/EC) regulates in Chapter II, Article 9 consumers’ rights for fuel mix disclosure – it is the right of customers to know what sources of electricity they consume (and hence pay for / support).

There is, however, a major snag to this: as electricity can be traded separately from its certificate, electricity bought from an electricity exchange does not as such have a certificate / guarantee of origin with it. (The electricity exchanges account for small amounts of total trade, in the case of the German exchange 17 %, in the case of the Austrian exchange 7 % – most electricity is traded in direct, Over The Counter (OTC)-contracts.)

For electricity bought from the exchanges, the Electricity Internal Market Directive allows suppliers to use aggregated figures for the electricity exchange – an average value, an assumption about the average mix rather than precise figures. This of course contradicts the right of customers for full disclosure of fuel sources.

On the national level of the member states, it got worse: The Austrian Electricity law (Elektrizitätswirtschafts- und Organisationsgesetz 2010) provided in § 79.3 a major loophole for hiding unwanted amounts of electricity: If suppliers were unable (or unwilling) to purchase certificates for electricity, as is the case of electricity bought from the electricity exchanges without buying accompanying certificates, the suppliers could still sell this electricity and label it according to average European values, assumed from data for the previous year / statistics of the European Transmission System Operators (excluding electricity generated from renewable sources, as it was rightly assumed that this would not be sold at the electricity exchanges, but rather for a premium in direct Over The Counter-contracts).

The situation in Austria
With the advent of electricity market reform, Austrian utilities exported more and more “green” electricity (or green electricity certificates) to countries where consumers were willing to pay a premium for this – and selling electricity generated from fossil, nuclear or unknown sources to the Austrian industry (that consumes 57 % of electricity).

Most recent data (2010) show that 14,7 % of Austria's total electricity consumption was either bought from the electricity exchanges without any electricity certificate, or its certificate was sold separately (mostly hydro certificates to Germany). There was no legal requirement for suppliers to provide electricity certificates for all electricity, amounts without certificate were simply called "Strom unbekannter Herkunft" (electricity with unknown origin) in § 79.3 of the Electricity law.

This meant that traders could easily hide the fossil and nuclear parts of their fuel mix behind the smokescreen of "Strom unbekannter Herkunft" – they could even buy electricity from known (dirty) sources, sell it at the exchange and buy it back – whereby it lost its certificate.

The campaign
GLOBAL 2000 and Greenpeace CEE had been campaigning on this issue / “hidden” nuclear electricity in Austria for years. When the majority state-controlled utility “Verbund” started a massive advertising campaign in 2010 positioning itself as “100 % hydro”, GLOBAL 2000 started a campaign outlining that a 100 % subsidiary of Verbund sold almost entirely dirty electricity to the industry. After the Fukushima-events in March 2011, the campaign gained momentum and the Austrian government, eager to demonstrate change, agreed to ban nuclear electricity at a first summit with the two NGOs in June 2011. Quite predictably, some utilities opposed these moves, so the NGOs had to provide detailed legal and financial expertise that a) the proposed legal changes are sound on basis of European and WTO law and b) electricity prices would not skyrocket – the average price increase for labelling all electricity in Austria without nuclear certificates would be in a very modest range from € 0.13–1.95 per average household per year.

We were lobbying for a legally binding prohibition to import nuclear electricity or certificates, but this stalled as the ministry of economics was fiercely opposed to this: The minister argued this would be an infringement to Art 34 TFEU (Treaty of the Functioning of the European Union, Free movement of goods) – we argued: yes it would, but this can be justified by Art 194.2 TFEU – the right of member states of the EU to choose their energy sources, that came into force with the Lisbon treaties.

The NGO campaign was backed by Austrian anti-nuclear initiatives, the Austrian Chamber of Labour and the major tabloid in Austria, Kronenzeitung – this helped a lot. When finally even the Catholic Church (in the person of the Klagenfurt bishop) signalled that nuclear electricity imports should be stopped, on April 16th we finally managed to achieve at least a compromise as follows:

1) Labelling: legally binding obligation for disclosure of all electricity that is consumed in Austria -- this includes households and industry as well as pumped-storage hydro (which consumes large amounts of electricity in Austria). The legal changes to the national electricity law will make it mandatory that the entire electricity supplied is labelled, i. e. that electricity can only be sold together with an electricity certificate, and “Strom unbekannter Herkunft” is not applicable any more for fuel disclosure. These changes to § 79.3 are to be drafted this year and come into force by 2015.

2) Nuclear certificates & electricity: Austrian utilities voluntarily exclude certificates and direct contracts from nuclear generation from their portfolio immediately (it would be economic suicide to market explicitly labelled nuclear electricity in Austria anyway). Österreichs Energie (representing the largest utilities in Austria) also agreed that on a voluntary basis they will already start labelling their entire electricity supply by 1.1.2013 for household consumers and the – much larger amounts – for industry by 1.1.2015.

3) Label: there will be a certification label by the (federal) Issuing Body E-Control, developed together with the NGOs, that guarantees that the utility does not use any nuclear electricity or nuclear electricity certificates.

4) Transit: as electricity labelling is consumer/disclosure-oriented, the proposed changes do not affect the transit of electricity through Austria.

Regarding electricity certificates: The Austrian issuing body only acknowledges four types of electricity certificates, three national certificates under RES-law and one international – the EECS-GO (European Energy Certificate System-Guarantee of Origin), where the issuing body is nominated by the state and conforms to fairly tight rules (to prevent double counting of certificates). This excludes systems (RECS, TÜV, ...) that are not as strict, are set up by market players or cannot exclude double counting, which of course immediately perverts the entire system.

The above is a compromise, but a reliable disclosure of all electricity sources is a big victory for the campaign. Lots of people were involved in this campaign, on the NGO-side Friends of the Earth Austria/GLOBAL 2000 & Greenpeace CEE as well as the ÖKOBÜRO legal experts.

If – as we hope – this campaign can be copied to other European countries, full disclosure can give consumers more power in choosing the clean electricity sources they want to consume – and avoiding the ones they do not wish to pay for any more, namely nuclear electricity.

Source and contact: Reinhard Uhrig, anti-nuclear campaigner, GLOBAL 2000 / Friends of the Earth Austria. Neustiftgasse 36, 1070 Wien, Austria
Tel: +43 699 14 2000 18
Mail: reinhard.uhrig[at]

Global 2000

Stop import of nuclear electricity from Russia

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Green World

Russian and Norwegian environmental NGOs oppose increased electricity trade between Russia and western countries, as long as common environmental and safety standards are absent. They urge the Finnish government to stop future import of nuclear electricity from the new Leningrad Nuclear Power Plant-2 (LNPP-2) in Russia. This import will be facilitated by the new power cable between Sosnovy Bor (St. Petersburg region, Russia) and Vyborg (Russia).

The Russian company JSC Edinaya Energeticheskaya Sistema (Unified Energy System of Russia), in cooperation with the State Corporation on Nuclear Energy (Rosatom), is laying an underwater 1000 MW power cable from the  new Leningrad nuclear reactor -2 (LNPP-2, under construction) on the south shore of the Gulf of Finland, to a point south of the city of Vyborg on the north shore. A public hearing of the environmental impact assessment (EIA) of the cable project was held in Sosnovy Bor in December 2011.

The cable will have a capacity of 1000 MW, and is capable of transporting electricity directly from 1 out of 4 units of VVER-1200 nuclear reactors of the New Leningrad NPP-2. The cable will bypass the limitations in the transmission lines around St Petersburg, and allow a more direct access to the international electricity market via Finland.  In the last years Russian-Finnish transfer of electricity has been about 10-11 TWh/year. This is about the equivalent of the electricity production of the 2 oldest Chernobyl type reactors of Leningrad NPP. These reactors have received a license for the prolonged operation after reaching their 30 years design limit. This political decision was adopted without public participation and EIA.

The High Voltage Direct Current power link-project will decrease environmental safety in the Baltic part of Russia by promoting the prolongation of old and unsafe nuclear reactors and the accumulation of nuclear and radioactive waste on the coastline of our common Baltic Sea. It will lead to environmental dumping, due to lower safety and environmental standards in Russia.

The transport of nuclear electricity is not solely a bilateral decision between Russia and Finland. Also other Nordic and EU countries will be influenced, as electricity imported to Finland will reach the common Nordic and EU market.

1. The new cable leads to environmental dumping

- Electricity import from Russia represents the dumping of cheaper electricity produced with lower environmental and safety standards, on the Nordic market.
Northwest Russia has excess electric generating capacity because of prolonged operation of the first generation nuclear reactors. The reactors have not only passed their 30 year of designed lifetime, but they are also built with serious safety design deficits that make it impossible to meet European safety standards. For instance, EU told Lithuania to close down Ignalina nuclear power plant for safety reasons, although its reactors were newer and better than the two oldest reactors at Leningrad Nuclear Power Plant.  

- A common market should have common standards.
EU’s position in the energy dialogue with Russia has been that a common EU and Russia electricity market should have common environmental standards. Therefore EU has shown reluctance to import Russian electricity before environmental and safety conditions are improved. As members of EU, Finland should not act in a way that contradicts this position. 

- Environmental dumping is bad both for the environment and for competition.
The prolonged operation of Russia’s first generation nuclear power reactors will decrease the level of environmental safety in the whole Baltic Region populated by more than 90 million people. In addition to harming the environment by decreasing the level of environmental safety, different standards in the same market is unfair competition.

2. The new cable helps prolongation of old and unsafe nuclear reactors

- Electricity import provides money for the Russian nuclear industry.
Russia’s nuclear operator RosEnergoAtom is one of the companies that will receive increased income from the electricity export. Earning money from electricity export, the operator of the old reactors will be more likely to continue operation. Even though there is surplus capacity of electricity generation in North West Russia, old nuclear reactors that have reached the end of their planned lifetime have received permission for prolongation of operations. This is done without public debate or necessary environmental impact assessments (EIA).

- Electricity import from Russia results in prolongation of old reactors.
Thus the proposed cable will decrease the level of environmental safety in the whole Baltic Region populated by more than 90 million people.

- Electricity import makes the work for decommissioning even more difficult.
Environmental NGOs in Russia work for decommissioning of old reactors, but face a tough challenge in today’s Russia, where organisational freedom is limited. The court system is also not working in our favour. Electricity import from Russia will counteract their efforts.

- The Russian courts have denied the right of NGOs to stop unlawful lifetime extension
Russian NGOs have attempted to use the legal system to stop the unlawful lifetime extension of the old reactors at the Leningrad nuclear power plant, but the effort has not been successful. The courts have so far blocked any discussion of this problem with Russian NPP operators and regulators of nuclear safety.

- Setting conditions for electricity import is a way to help decommissioning.
The Nordic countries, EBRD (The European Bank of Reconstruction and Development) and others have given financial and technical support for safety measures at the old reactors, on the condition that they close at the end of their designed lifetime. Nevertheless, RosEnergoAtom has chosen to prolong their operation. By unconditionally buying the power from RosEnergoAtom, the Nordic countries undermine their own possibilities for actual influence on Russian authorities on this issue. 

NGO's involved in this campaign are Green World, Sosnovy Bor, Kola Environmental Center, Murmansk, Za Priodu, Chelyabinsk and Norges Naturvernforbund / FOE Norway, Oslo.

Source and contact: Green World, Sosnovy Bor, St. Petersburg region, Russia
Tel: +7 921 74 52 631
Email: Bodrov[at]