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Agenda 2000: increase in Nuclear Safety?

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Special: Agenda 2000: Will it increase nuclear safety in Eastern Europe?

(June 19, 1998) Over the past decade, considerable attention has been paid to the safety of Soviet-designed reactors and nuclear facilities. However, nuclear safety continues to give cause for serious concern and the Soviet-designed reactors do not meet international safety standards.
There are three areas in the field of nuclear plant safety that Agenda 2000 has identified as requiring international assistance:

Where Western-designed nuclear plants are in use, at Cernovoda in Romania and Krsko in Slovenia; developments should be monitored to ensure that operations comply with the appropriate safety standards.

Where the safety of Soviet-designed nuclear stations which are in operation or under construction, can be upgraded to meet international safety standards (VVER 440-213s and VVER 1000-320s), modernization programs should be fully implemented over a period of 7-10 years. (This applies to Dukovany and Temelin in the Czech Republic, Paks in Hungary, Bohunice V2 in Slovakia, Kozloduy 5 and 6 in Bulgaria, Mochovce in Slovakia).

The timetables agreed to by the governments concerned, subject to certain conditions, for the closure of non-upgradable units must be respected. (This applies to Bohunice V-1 in Slovakia, Ignalina in Lithuania and units 1-4 at Kozloduy in Bulgaria.)

So far little detail is available on what each of these program areas would cover and what specific technical changes the accession countries would have to undergo. However, the Commission has calculated that such programs would cost ECU 4-5 billion over the next 10 years.
The Commission's position on the status of the environment and energy sectors in the different accession countries, focusing on the nuclear situation, is shown on the next page.


4.1: Non-upgradable units to be closed?

The Commission claims that agreements have been reached on the closure of the reactors which cannot be upgraded to an acceptable level. However, there are worrying indications that these agreements are being postponed and their very existence being threatened. In late March 1998, the Commission adopted a "Communication" on nuclear sector-related activities for the applicant countries. This is the first time in some years that the Commission has put forward a paper of this kind, providing some remarkable insights in what happens to their ones-so-bravely-outspoken viewpoint on the actions to be taken regarding the most dangerous nuclear power plants in the CEE countries.
In the second part of the `Communication', by the European Commission29, The way forward - New orientations, the three identified categories of reactors and the kind of approach is described quite differently, especially the third category of which was said (in Agenda 2000) that they were to be closed according to already set timetables.
Now it is said as follows:

"For the third category of reactors, the desired early closure of these reactors raise a number of important issues (....) At present, countries such as Bulgaria, Slovakia and Lithuania can generate electricity at very low cost, but have made no or very little provision for the cost of decommissioning nuclear reactors. Until they can see means of financing alternative energy sources, radioactive waste management, the decommissioning and related social and regional aspects, they will continue to have difficulties in meeting agreed early closure timetables."30

Following are examples of agreed timetables and the consequences for some of the reactors in the accession countries of not meeting those:

  • Kozloduy, Bulgaria: Initially it was agreed that units 1-4 would be closed by 1998/2000. However, failure to install alternatives have forced a delay in this timetable and Agenda 2000 now suggests that closure of units 1 and 2 could be achieved in 2001, with units 3 and 4 in 2001/2, and even these are "depending on conditions being met".
  • Ignalina, Lithuania: Unit 1 was supposed to be closed in 1999 and unit 2 in 2002. However, it appears that initiatives are already underway to significantly increase the operating life of the reactors and there are even suggestions that the reactors would be re-channelled (the effective replace- ment of the reactor core, which allows the operating life to be significantly increased) which would break international agreements. Of greatest concern is the proposal by the Ministry of Economy to sign long term electricity export contracts that would make the closure of Ignalina even less likely.32 Now the Commission, in its latest "Communication", admits that Ignalina unit 1 would not be closed before 2001 and unit 2 not before 2005.
  • Bohunice, Slovakia: In 1994 the government agreed to close the first 2 reactors in 2000. However, in April 1996, the utility Slovenske Elektrarne (SE) has signed a contract on the gradual safety upgrading of V-1 with the consortium Rekon, formed by the Nuclear Power Plant Research Institute, Inc. Trnava and Siemens AG. The price of the contract is Sk (Slovak krones) 5.5 billion; total costs of the gradual upgrading are about Sk 6.4 billion (250 million ECU) the gradual upgrading will be performed during extended refuelling outages in 1996-1999. It now appears more likely that the reactors would be closed in 2003 and 2006, at the end of their design lives.33

So, after nine months since Agenda 2000 was published in July 1997, the European Union again seems to be prepared to weaken its conditions on nuclear safety for the accession countries. But even if the EU would have stuck to its firm standpoints given earlier, the whole process of aid for upgrading programs would have led to a confusing and dangerous process.


4.2: Whose nuclear safety standards?

The Commission calls for the implementation of a modernization program over the next 7-10 years on those reactors that can be upgraded to meet international safety standards (second category). However, it is far from clear what this safety standard would actually be. This is because within the European Union, there is no such thing as a "fixed nuclear reactor safety standard". Given the lack of a single safety standard, it is difficult to be categorical about the "advantages" of EU reactors over those in Central and Eastern Europe. In particular, some of the older reactors in EU member-states have some of the design shortcomings that cause concern in CEE countries. For example, most of the 35 nuclear power plants in the UK don't have a safety containment either. The twenty, gas-cooled Magnox reactors, of which some are more than 40 years old and most thirty years plus, all lack a containment. They also lack a modern, digital Instrumentation & Control system. Nevertheless, the Magnox plants were recently licensed to operate another 10 years.

Because there is no fixed safety standard, it is left to the individual governments and regulatory bodies to set their own national guidelines and regulations. That is why in the former East Germany, it was possible for specific safety standards to be set for the reactors.

4.2.1: Lack of a clear safety objective; K2/R4
Because there is no clear nuclear reactor safety standard, and thus to fully comprehend the extent of what some might say is deliberate confusion, it is necessary to look at a specific example. The most recent case surrounds the completion of Khmelnitsky 2 and Rovno 4 (K2/R4) nuclear reactors in the Ukraine. Although Ukraine is not being considered for accession, these reactors are having the same criteria applied to them. As can be seen below, even those Western parties who are involved in the project have varying standards (the Commission and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development [EBRD] are potentially joint funders of the project, while Riskaudit is the Western consultant assigned to undertake the safety review).

European Commission: "The Commission will insist that they [the reactors] should be completed not just to Russian or Ukrainian standards, but to full Western safety levels instead".34

"Eventually allow the implementation of a safety level for these two units which is equivalent to the level currently achieved in Western Europe for plants of the same vintage designs".35

EBRD: "These requirements will be applied for reactors under construction, where the retrofitting of adequate safety features will be required, in order to make the reactors acceptable under Western-type licensing practices".36

"The safety of any nuclear plant we would be working on would have to be at the highest existing standard".37

Riskaudit: "The project would allow safety of the plants to be comparable to the one achieved in Western countries for NPPs of the same generation recently approved or re-approved by national safety authorities". 38

It can be seen that the proposed safety standard ranges from "the highest existing standard" to "acceptable under Western-type licensing practices". Both of these standards could be said to bring the reactors up to "international standards", but can also be interpreted in a totally different manner.

A proposed standard is further complicated by an existing two-tier system based on operating and future reactors. The IAEA's basic safety principles report allows an order of magnitude difference between the safety required of existing rather than future reactors.39 In the case of K2/R4, some safety agencies are assuming that a comparison can be made with already operating reactors as opposed to future, incomplete reactors which would require a higher safety standard.

4.2.2: Lack of a clear safety objective; Temelin
The lack of clear safety standards is also highlighted when comparing the proposed Western completion projects for VVER 1000s, that of Temelin in the Czech Republic and the K2/R4 in Ukraine. In both cases the reactors are supposed to be completed to Western safety standards. By taking the specific example of the reactors' instrument and control system (I&C), it is possible to see how large the differences are.
For Temelin, being completed with funding from the United States Export-Import Bank, it was stated:

"A number of studies of the VVER reactors series have been performed by Western organizations, including the prestigious International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). All have concluded that the Soviet instrument and control (I and C) systems are not adequate and adversely affect safety".40

It was subsequently stated by the United States General Accounting Office (GAO) that the addition of a" )modern" instrumentation and control system was necessary to eliminate design shortcomings and make the plant "comparable with contemporary systems in the West".41
However, the current proposals for K2/R4 do not include the replacement of the Instrumentation and Control systems. Rather, they state, "For K2/R4, the computers will be replaced, at a cost of the order US$25 million per unit but construction is regarded as too far advanced for replacement of the old analogue system to be feasible".42


The Commission`s Opinion of the State of the Environment and Energy Sector in Accession Countries with Nuclear Power programs31

Country: Bulgaria
Energy: It must in the medium term modernize the units for which this is possible, so that they meet internationally accepted standards; and keep its understanding to close those which cannot be modernized according to the conditions set in the 1993 Agreement
Environment: Full compliance with the acquis could only be expected in the very long term.

Country: Hungary
Energy: It [Paks] needs to modernize this in the medium term in order to bring it up to internationally accepted safety standards. It will also need to find a solution for nuclear waste.
Environment: Full compliance with the acquis could only be expected in the long to very long term.

Country: Lithuania
Energy: It has committed itself to closing the nuclear plant at Ignalina and must maintain the agreed timetable for this. In the meantime it must make the necessary short-term adjustments to bring safety procedures to internationally accepted standards.
Environment: Full compliance with the acquis could only be expected in the long term.

Country: Czech Republic
Energy: The modernization program needed to bring the nuclear plants at Dukovany and Temelin up to internationally accepted safety standarts must be completed within 7-10 years.
Environment: Partial compliance with the acquis could be achieved on the medium term. Full compliance could only be achieved in the long term.

Country: Romania
Energy: Romania has at Cernovoda a nuclear power station which produces around 8% of the country`s electricity. It was built in accordance with western technology. A solution will need to be found to the problem of nuclear waste.
Environment: Full compliance with the acquis could be expected only in the very long term.

Country: Slovenia
Energy: Slovenia has a nuclear power plant station at Krsko, which it shares with Croatia, and wich produces 20% of its electricity. It was built according to western technology. A solution needs to be found for its nuclear waste.
Environment: Full compliance with the acquis could be expected only in the long term.

Country: Slovakia
Energy: Slovakia has a nuclear power station at Bohunice that produces nearly 50% of the country`s electricity and is constructing a new power station at Mochovce. It must in the medium term modernize two of the units at Bohunice to bring them up to internationally accepted safety standards, and must take the appropriate measures to close the units which cannot be modernized. A long term solution needs to be found for nuclear waste.
Environment: Full compliance with the acquis could only be expected in the long to very long term.