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EU's nuclear aid until now

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

(June 19, 1998) Over the last 12 years the European Union has been undertaking a great number of activities in the nuclear sector in Central and Eastern European countries. The work started against the background of the very clear perception (Chernobyl, more openness and, therefore, more information) of the disastrous situation in the nuclear installations in the former Soviet Union.
The fundamental political changes in this part of Europe offered new possibilities. In the first years after the Chernobyl accident, the different European countries, the European Union, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and a variety of national bodies working on nuclear issues, and even the nuclear industry (not to mention the environmental NGOs!) were pledging the immediate closure of a whole range of older Soviet-built reactors. Adolf Huttl, head of the Nuclear Energy Division of Siemens International, one of the largest nuclear power plant constructors, rejected the upgrading of the RBMK reactors, stating: "The only answer is to shut them down as soon as possible".6 Klaus Töpfer, then Germany's environmental minister, was quoted in Izvestia, saying it is necessary to close down all 16 Soviet RBMK reactors.7
The changes in Eastern Europe provided the nuclear industry with a last chance to reverse its decline. Just when the order book was empty a new market appeared. Although the initial opportunities seemed small, only smaller upgrading projects, it must be clear that the nuclear industry works to very long lead times. Winning those early contracts are optimistically seen as a way to get a foot in the door.

In order to assist with the financing of the safety upgrading programs, the G7 in 1992 established the Nuclear Safety Account (NSA), managed by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD). The safety upgrading program was not designed to extend the lifetime of the high-risk reactors but to make them safer in the period they were still to be in operation: "Finance from the NSA is not used to extend the operating lifetime of unsafe reactors".8Immediate closure was seen as impossible or at least very difficult because the share of electricity produced by nuclear power in some of the concerned countries was (and is) considerable: Lithuania 85%, Ukraine 44%. The share in Bulgaria grew from 33% in 19909 to 45%.10 Even contracts for the smallest feasibility studies have brought on a "feeding frenzy" as firms fight for the chance to have a contract. Westinghouse, for instance, at the end of the 1980s was quite in trouble in the West (the company has been in court in the US, accused of knowingly supplying faulty equipment11 and has made a settlement out of court with the government of the Philippines after being accused of bribing former dictator Ferdinand Marcos with more than US$17 million through a business associate.)12It publicly stated in 1990 it would "aggresively pursue opportunities in Eastern Europe".13
In preparation for the July 1993 Tokyo G7 summit, the World Bank and the International Energy Agency (IAE) produced an economic analysis on how best to reduce the nuclear risk in the region. The six countries investigated (Russia, Ukraine, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Armenia and Slovakia) all showed the same results; least-cost scenarios involved the rapid shutdown of high-risk reactors. The total costs of the program was estimated to be between US$18 billion to US$24 billion.
Even more important, a study leaked in June 1993 concluded that it would be technically possible by the mid-1990s and without loss of power capacity.14
It was just too good to be true.
In the following years, as the CEE countries and the NIS regained self-confidence, the Western nuclear industry realized it was far more worth-while to find money for upgrading activities, and the European Union found itself in quite some internal trouble, the negotations were stranded, and at the tenth anniversary of the disaster in Chernobyl (April 26, 1996), the conclusion was clear: none of the first-mentioned high-risk reactors were closed.

In a recent report15, the European Commission gave an overview of instruments and assistance programs it had been using to achieve the initial goals. In an assessment of the results, the EC gave its own thoughts on the main factors which downplayed the results (although it concluded that the results are reasonably good).
According to the EC, the main factors decreasing the results are:

  • The number of nuclear installations and the amount of nuclear materials are so large that efforts from outside to improve nuclear safety and security remain necessarily incommensurate with the needs;
  • It has taken time to find a common understanding between the parties to agree on shortcomings and defining suitable solutions. The legacy of the past of the partner countries thereby played an important role. Legal and practical approaches and needs for Community programs were not familiar to our partners (such as nuclear-liability coverage and tendering procedures);
  • Our own requirements for programing lead to slowness in project implementation.16

These conclusions are revealing. They seem to be saying the following:

  • We in the West do not know that much about the situation in the former Soviet Union;
  • Those communists were too stupid to understand what we, the West, understood under 'safety', 'liability', a 'contract';
  • Our bureaucracy and internal Western problems slowed down the safety improvements;
  • The countries involved managed very well to (sometimes with a clear blackmail strategy) get the highest benefit out of the Western programs without giving in.

In general, while looking at the comments the Commission itself gives, one can conclude that the different programs and instruments failed to achieve their main objectives - closure of the high risk reactors, and implementation of the safety measures at the shortest possible time while clearly agreeing to their closure date.
Up till now, the EU has undertaken efforts in the following areas in accession countries:

  • Nuclear power plant safety - on-site assistance program. This is the largest focus area. A "unique mechanism" for the transfer of safety culture and for the introduction of specific safety improvements through equipment deliveries. So far, 14 nuclear plants (only Kozloduy in the accession countries) have signed a twinning scheme with EU utilities. Besides this, NSA agreements for early closure have been signed with Lithuania (Ignalina RBMKs) and Bulgaria (VVER 440/230s at Kozloduy);
  • Regulatory authorities: in all CEE/NIS countries with nuclear reactors, the EC has set up PHARE and TACIS projects to transfer "methodology and practices of Western safety culture";
  • Nuclear fuel cycle installations and radioactive waste management: projects to "understand the scale, the scope and safety" of current waste, as well as current practices;
  • Radiation protection: main focusing on train-ing of regulatory authorities, also for customs officers in radiation measurement to illicit nuclear trafficking;
  • Off-site emergency preparedness: an assessment is completed of needs in the areas of local, regional and national off-site emergency response in some 14 East European countries. Projects concern monitoring and early-warning systems, communications, decision support systems and online data exchange;
  • Research on nuclear fission safety: participation of Eastern research organizations in EC nuclear safety research programs;
  • The Commission's services are considering Euratom loans for Kozloduy 5 and 6, and the modernization of VVER-1000 reactors to "Western safety standards". Euratom loans are also consider-ed for projects in the Ukraine and Russia.17

Besides all these, the EC is also involved in other non-accession countries' nuclear programs: for instance, the closure of Chernobyl, projects for the "redirection" of nearly 19,000 unemployed nuclear weapons scientists and engineers in the NIS countries18, but also the supply of Light Water Reactors to North Korea: the EU pays 75 million ECU to the KEDO consortium.19
Since 1991, the international community has in total given and pledged approximately 1.5 billion ECU in grants for nuclear safety programs in CEE countries and the former Soviet Union (half from PHARE and TACIS, the two major aid programs for economic restructuring used for nuclear issues in CEE and in the NIS, respectively). The majority have been directed towards the former Soviet Union. Therefore, over the past seven years, about 500-million ECU in grants has been allocated to the accession countries.20This represents only grants from the international community and do not take into consideration the national upgrading programs.
The European Commission anticipates that a nuclear safety program for the accession countries is likely to cost 4-5 billion ECU over the next 7-10 years.21