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Real ways to reduce nuclear risk in Eastern Europe

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

(November 13, 1998) East European environmental groups say accession to the European Union should be conditioned on the closure by 2000 of their high-risk nuclear reactors. On October 28, in Brussels, a report was published by the EU Enlargement Watch, a cooperation of those six groups, called "Real Ways to Reduce Nuclear Risk in Eastern Europe"

(502.4946) EU Enlargement Watch - Since 1989 the European Commission has made available over ECU 700 million for nuclear safety programs in Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, predominantly through the PHARE and TACIS programs. Despite this investment--and some might say even because of it--none of the nuclear reactors in the region has been voluntarily and permanently closed during the past decade, with the exception of one reactor at Chernobyl. Yet, both the G7 and the European Union have stated that such closures are a priority policy objective.

Western governments have, in particular, sought the closure of what is known as "high risk" reactors--the first generation of Soviet- designed VVER 440-230 and RBMKs. However, governments in the region are ignoring the intention of agreements previously reached concerning these dangerous reactors and are continuing to operate facilities while disregarding the significant risks they pose. In addition, Western agencies have not been focused and determined enough to seek the desired closures. Furthermore, grants and agreements never intended to increase the lifetime of high-risk reactors have actually been used as part of larger retrofitting programs while insufficient funds have been given to assist with decommissioning. As a result, all the high-risk reactors in accession countries are still operating.

The only way to achieve rapid progress is to make it clear that pre-accession aid would be conditional upon the closure of a number of reactors, notably: Kozloduy 1-4 (Bulgaria); Ignalina 1 and 2 (Lithuania) and Bohunice V1 (Slovakia). With the exception of Ignalina Unit 2, past agreements should have led to the closure of all of these reactors by 2000. These agreements must be reinforced and the reactors closed down once and for all.

Agenda 2000 makes clear the Commission's desire to see not only the closure of first-generation high-risk reactors but an increase in nuclear safety for the subsequently developed second-generation reactors--the VVER 440/213 and VVER 1000-- to bring them in line with international or Western safety standards. The Commission has estimated the cost of modernizing these reactors at ECU 4-5 billion and proposed that the improvements be implemented over the next seven to 10 years. However, there are no other details of the proposed program.

The enlargement of the European Union raises the key question of just how safe reactors in new countries entering the EU must be. As standards and safety of nuclear facilities fall under the authority of national governments, there is no uniform Western European safety standard to which new members have to conform. Given this situation, it appears very unlikely that entry by accession countries into the Union as currently proposed by the European Commission would in practice lead to higher nuclear safety standards. On the other hand, the September 1998 decision by EU justice ministers requiring changes in the standards so that nuclear safety "reaches a level corresponding to the technological, regulatory and operational state-of-the-art in the Union" would require substantial action.

Despite this confusion, Agenda 2000 and other Commission documents call for the potential extension of the Euratom loan facility and the possibility of new funds from the Instruments for Structural Policies Pre-accession (ISPA) for the modernization of reactors. Consequently, new sources of funds are being proposed without there being a clear picture of what those funds would be used for. This does not inspire confidence especially given the EUþs poor track record in achieving agreed upon policy objectives in the past.

Former Eastern Germany is the only example where operating and partly built Soviet-designed and -constructed reactors have entered into the European Union. An economic analysis of the costs of bringing these reactors up to German safety standards led to them being abandoned. A similar analysis needs to be undertaken for each of the proposed reactors to assess the costs and benefits of trying to bring them in line with "state-of-the-art in the Union" safety standards, as mandated by the EU justice ministers.

Prioritizing investment in replacement power for dangerous reactors is another approach, which must be used to encourage the closure of high-risk reactors. The Commission has stated its intention of using financial tools in this way but has singularly failed to deliver in this area. Unfortunately, this lack of strategic investment is mirrored by the major international financial institutions in the region: the European Investment Bank (EIB), the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and the World Bank (WB) have also largely failed to prioritize non-nuclear lending to countries with the most dangerous reactors. Furthermore, the April 1998 Memorandum of Understanding between the international financial institutions and the European Commission on preparing countries for accession in the EU failed to prioritize loans for replacement capacity for nuclear power plants.

In the Central and East European and CIS (former Soviet Union) regions, energy is used far less efficiently than in the European Union, implying large energy savings potentials. Coupled with the massive over-capacity of power stations, this offers a unique opportunity for quick and decisive action to phase out nuclear power. However, the demise of the nuclear industry within the European Union and the failure of the industry to expand into other parts of the world make CEE, in the eyes of the Western European nuclear constructors, one of the last hopes for a moribund industry. As a consequence, there is reluctance by those bodies influenced by the nuclear industry to criticize activities in Eastern Europe, as they do not want to risk disenfranchising scarce potential new customers. Furthermore, the closure of reactors is likely to lead to their replacement by gas-fired power stations. This would be seen by some as against the interests of the EU, as the rapidly increasing use of gas for electricity generation within the EU means that any competing demands for Russian gas would be undesirable.

A Summary of NGO Recommendations:

Investment Strategy
Western European public institutions should neither finance the construction of new nuclear power plants nor fund the activities of currently operating nuclear plants in CEE. In particular, the Euratom loan facility should be abandoned and the use of Instruments for Structural Policies Pre-Accession (ISPA) should not be opened up for nuclear projects.

Nuclear Safety

  • The first generation of Soviet-designed reactors--the VVER 440/230 and RBMKs--can and must be closed in the short term. Enforcement of existing agreements would see virtually all the reactors in question closed by the year 2000.
  • A full public debate on the future of the second-generation VVER 440-2213 and VVER 1000-320 reactors should take place. Operators should show how their reactors would meet the Council of Ministersþ "state of the art" safety objectives and at what cost. Furthermore a least cost analysis should be undertaken in each case to assess the economic viability of future operations.

Radioactive Waste

  • The reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel in Russia should be immediately prohibited to all member states and accession countries and should form part of the accession negotiations. Management of all radioactive wastes should conform to state- of-the-art practices within the European Union.
  • Increased resources, from the owners and operators of reactors, should be put aside to fund future work on radioactive waste management.


  • The owners and operators of reactors must put aside sufficient funds to guarantee that the full costs of decommissioning of nuclear facilities can be financed.
  • In order to facilitate the immediate closure of reactors, small Western grants should be made available to assist with the first stage of decommissioning and the related social issues. Such grants should replace those funds which currently support the continued operation of reactors.

Alternative Energy Options

  • A redirection of energy lending and grant programs must take place that will truly prioritize, facilitate, and lead to early reactor closure and decommissioning.
  • Alternative energy programs should target projects which encourage energy efficiency and renewable energy sources.

The report 'Real Ways To Reduce Nuclear Risk in Eastern Europe' is avalaible at:
EU Enlargement Watch
53a Nevil Road
London N16 8SW
Tel & Fax: +44-171-923 0412