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Nuclear safety account

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#493-494
Special: Agenda 2000: Will it increase nuclear safety in Eastern Europe?
19/06/1998
Article

(June 19, 1998) The heads of state of the seven richest countries (the G-7), at their Munich Summit in 1992, decided to offer the CEE and NIS countries a multilateral program for financing nuclear safety improvements. In 1993, the Nuclear Safety Account (NSA) was set up with the already existing European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) acting as its secretariat. The purpose of the NSA is to ensure short-term operational and safety improvements of VVER 440/230 and RBMK-type reactors, which would lead to their closure according to agreed timetables. The NSA grants were not supposed to be used to extend the operating lifetime of these reactors.

Up till now, all the available ECU 257 million has been committed for projects in Bulgaria, Lithuania, Ukraine and Russia but none of the grants lent through the NSA has led to substantial safety improvements nor resulted in closure of a single high-risk reactor in CEE and CIS. Instead the NSA has contributed to upgrading and expanding the lifetime of those reactors. The operation of the NSA has proved to be highly non-transparent with insufficient implementation monitoring and control. Due to its narrow focus, the NSA has failed to ensure actual plant decommissioning. The conditionalities included in NSA agreements are insufficient in their scope and force, and a number of recipient governments failed to comply with the original agreements. All grants have failed to ensure clear closure dates for the reactors.
The NSA has insufficient resources to guarantee closure of the reactors and there is no clear mechanism for estimation of the needed cost of improvements. The grants have helped to extend the operating lifetime of those unsafe reactors. It is clear that a number of Western nuclear companies have benefited from NSA contract work, and have an interest in ensuring future markets for their services.
The European Union is one of the large contributors of the NSA. EU and its member states payed about 75% of the financial contributions (ECU 260 million) sofar.1

Contributions to the Nuclear Safety Account as of 31 December 1997 (in million ECU)

Belgium 1.5
Canada 12.3
Denmark 4.0
European Union 20.0
Finland 4.0
France 56.9
Germany 37.5
Italy 21.2
Japan 23.3
Netherlands 4.2
Norway 4.0
Sweden 9.0
Switzerland 10.9
United Kingdom 25.5
United States 26.3
Total 260.6

Complete failure of NSA; the Kozloduy example
The Kozloduy nuclear power plant in Bulgaria contains six reactors:

  • 1-4 are VVER 440/230s (first-generation VVERs)
  • 4/5 are VVER 1000/320s (third-generation VVERs)

All of them have been a source of concern, not only in Bulgaria itself but also in the Western European countries. In 1991 a research team with Western experts was for the first time allowed to make a full safety analysis of the first four reactors. In June 1991 the IAEA released its findings: the reactors were highly unsafe, the reactor vessels were embrittled.
Reactors 1 and 2 were closed immediately and the European Union committed 18 million ECU for short-term safety upgrades of the units 3 and 4 (using material from the closed German Greifswald reactors). Meanwhile, the staff of units 1 and 2 were trained in Western safety standards and philosophy. At the beginning of 1993, unit 2 was started again and unit 1 followed in late December 1993 but was closed again in January 1995 for repairs.
In June 1993, the Bulgarian government signed the NSA agreement with the EBRD for ECU 24 million, a grant for (again) short-term safety improvements for units 1-4 under the condition of closing units 1 and 2 by the end of 1997 and units 3 and 4 by the end of 1998. Another part of the deal was the promise of the West to partly finance the building of four hydropower stations, replacement capacity for the closed units. These power stations would be ready and grid connected at the end of 1998.

The Bulgarian government had its own viewpoint and invited Bulgarian and Russian nuclear experts to make a new safety analysis. They concluded that nothing was wrong and in October 1995 unit 1 was started again.2 The Bulgarians thanked the EU for its help (grants!) up till that moment and declare that the government was "considering" lifetime extension of the reactor units 1-4.
Although outraged by the Bulgarian decision, the EU did not have the means or the political will and power to change the situation. In October 1997 the Bulgarian government officially adopted a memorandum which opposed the NSA requirement of early closure of the Kozloduy reactors and furthermore states that units 1-2 should continue operation until 2005 and units 3-4 until 2011.3 The National Electric Company already has prepared a new program for their upgrading.

But because the EU failed to ensure a clear decision policy on closure dates, it was easy and very predictable for Bulgaria to delay the closure of units 1-4. The NSA agreement with Bulgaria has led only to limited safety improvements at the Kozloduy nuclear power plants. These limited safety improvements are used now by the Bulgarian government and energy authorities to claim substantial improvements: "These units are now completely different". The EBRD is now claiming there is `no chance' Bulgaria would get more NSA grants for further upgrading units 1-4.4 But the NSA has not led to the early closure of the four high risk reactors; instead it was used to extend their lifetime. And that was exactly what it was not suppose to do.

Currently, the EC is considering Euratom loans for the upgrading of units 5-6. This is another example of a lack of consistent policy: talking of loans, while the Bulgarian government doesn't meet the agreements on closure of units 1-4.

The Mochovce-Bohunice example
From 1984 until 1991 the Mochovce project (two VVER 440/213 units) was jointly managed by the Russian designer and the Czechoslovak principal contractor Skoda. In 1991 the project was abandoned due to lack of funds.
In 1994, however, the Meciar government decided to restart the project with Western partners, EdF as the project manager and the EBRD as the lead financier. Although the Meciar government promised to close the two Bohunice units (ranked by the US Department of Energy in the early 1990s as one of the six most dangerous nuclear reactors in Europe) when the Mochovce reactors would go on-line, still even within the EBRD the following countries voted against the project: Austria, Norway, Luxembourg, Greece, Denmark, The Netherlands, Sweden and Turkey. Also the European Parliament voted in large majority to halt the project until safety issues could be resolved. More than 200 non-governmental units (NGOs) from all over the world called for a complete halt. Due to this pressure some of the main players were forced out, among them the EBRD.5

But Siemens stayed involved in the discussion by lobbying for and accepting a US$200-million upgrade program of Bohunice (guaranteed by state-owned German banks). This is important to stress because all of the Western lenders required the closure of Bohunice as one of the conditions for completion of Mochovce. The Slovak government many times claimed the Bohunice plant would be closed in 2000. If so, the Bohunice upgrades, scheduled to be complete in 1999, did not make any sense. And, of course, this is what is used now by the Slovaks. The situation has changed and Mikus, general director of the state-owned Slovenské Elektrárne, stated that "no reactor will be closed if demand for power continues to rise"6. The Bohunice reactors provide 45% of Slovakia's electricity.

In 1996 the Slovak government restarted the Mochovce project with the Czech Skoda as the main contractor and with the EdF and Siemens building the Instrumentation and Control Systems, among other things.

Early this June, the first Mochovce unit began test runs, and is expected to go on line later this year. The second unit is expected to be finished in late 1999. Austria was outraged by the decision of its neighboring country to start the reactor and called the move `highly irresponsible'7.

Slovakia's determination to continue with its plans for Mochovce has prompted also criticism from the European Parliament. On May 14, MEP's voted in plenary session to call on the Slovak Government to postpone the start up of the Mochovce plant untill any safety problems that might be identified by the independent international panel of experts had been resolved. They expressed their dissatisfaction at steps taken to date by the Slovak authorities to tackle the problem of nuclear waste storage and stressed that these authorities would be required to comply with Community standards before Slovakia was allowed to become part of the EU. The Parliament has warned that Slovakia's bid to join the EU, which is already shrouded in question marks as a result of Slovakia's democratic deficit, may be further jeopardised unless the Government in Bratislava rethinks its policies.8

Sources

  1. Contributions to the Nuclear Safety Account; EBRD, 31 December 1997.
  2. Reuters; 11 October 1995.
  3. WISE News Communique 481 Bulgaria should comply with NSA agreement, 21 November 1997.
  4. Nucleonics Week, 23 April 1998, p. 7.
  5. WISE News Communique 462, 29 November 1996.
  6. Environment News Service, June 5, 1998.
  7. Reuters, 8 June 1998.
  8. Europe Energy, No. 515, Europe Information Service, 5 June 1998.