(October 10, 2003) Six months after the serious incident in Paks-2 on 10 April, which could have led to a much more serious accident, the Hungarian public seems to be a bit ignorant. The government and the NPP did a great job in "under-communicating" the seriousness of the event. Even though, it is worthwhile to look back and evaluate the development.
(594.5547) Energy Club - In the incident, several fuel elements got severely damaged when they overheated in a cleaning tank as a consequence of a lack of cooling. A big amount of radioactivity was released into the reactor building and to the outside air environment. The incident was rated as level 3 on the International Nuclear Event Scale (INES) (see WISE/NIRS Nuclear Monitor 586.5507: "Serious incident at Hungarian Paks-2 reactor").
In the last six months a truckload of press clippings and another pile of reports, assessment and evaluations were born out of this incident. A report by the Paks NPP itself - 30 days after the incident - is blaming mainly Framatome ANP (the supplier of the cleaning technology) for design deficiencies. This report also points to the Hungarian Atomic Energy Authority (HAEA) that they issued a license for the technology. So the power plant is defending itself like we did when we were kids: "Daddy did let me do that! It wasn't my fault!". (1)
A month after, the HAEA published its own report and concluded that Paks was not enough self-critical (see WISE/NIRS Nuclear Monitor 588: "In brief"). Which is true, but they did not press on their own mistakes in the process of licensing. In the meantime the Hungarian NGOs, led by the Energy Club were demanding an independent, international review of the incident with no limitation in time, money and the scope of report.
"Fulfilling" this demand the government decided to invite the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to review the incident. The mission came in June for ten days with the focus on this particular incident and to produce an "independent and objective analysis of the actions of the HAEA and Paks NPP prior to, during and after the incident". The IAEA concluded the time pressure, underestimation of safety consequences by both operator and regulators, and overconfidence in vendor Framatome ANP were major factors in the incident (see WISE/NIRS Nuclear Monitor 589: "In brief").
Even though the IAEA report concludes many of our critiques, and much stronger then the previous Paks and HAEA reports, the Hungarian Government missed a great opportunity to assess the problems of nuclear safety and to get a precise procedure to follow which would result in a better developed system within the NPP and between the NPP and the regulatory authority.
There are several lessons to be learned from this particular incident. First of all, the NPP pushed both Framatome ANP and the HAEA. This resulted a very tight timeline not just for the licensing procedure but even for the design and manufacturing of the whole cleaning system. It is acknowledged by the IAEA that this was one of the main problems throughout the whole process. This urgency was a result of the economic approach instead of giving more priority to safety over the past decade. Partly because of this speeded process the authority did not rate the original and the advanced cleaning technology for fuel assemblies to the adequate safety level. Therefore all the responsibility remained at the level of the NPP.
The communication among the involved departments within the NPP was not appropriate. There were fundamental design deficiencies. The circulation of the coolant was not sufficient, since the inlet and outlet pipes were very close to each other. There was no possibility to detect any anomalies from outside. The only metering system placed in the system, was a Krypton gas (fission product) detection appliance, which alarmed the staff at a very late stage of the problem. After the cleaning process was finished, the crane which was supposed to open the lid of the cask, was busy with cleaning the reactor. Eventually four hours were enough for loss of coolant and finally by opening the container and entrance of cold water the temperature shock "finished" breaking nearly all of the 30 assemblies, 3 and a half tones of uranium rods into pieces. We could continue this list for quite a while, but most importantly we need to conclude that the Paks NPP and the HAEA caused a situation in which a far more serious accident could have happened, but fortunately it didn't.
The Energy Club filed a case on the basis of the missing crane - which was instructed to be at the top of the tank for the whole period of the cleaning. There two other filed court cases in process.
We can conclude that the story is not finished yet. So far the financial damage is very high. Till the end of this year only the missing electricity production will sum up to a 56 million Euro (US$ 67 million) and it will continue next year probably with a much bigger amount.
Interestingly the Russian fuel manufacturing and trading company, TVEL, will do the rehabilitation work (recovery of the fuel) for 2 million Euro (US$ 2.4 million). And Framatome ANP would only pay for the broken fuel assemblies and the TVEL cleaning contract, which is a very small part of the actual financial damage caused by the technology.
There is a new parliamentary committee established in September, with a mandate for 60 days to investigate the whole issue from the past up to the missing electricity replacement. The work and performance of the committee is pretty much hindered by the governing parties and more importantly by the management of Paks and the deeply involved nuclear authority. So far there was not much discovered than we have known already.
The Energy Club, as the representative of the Hungarian NGOs, is an external expert of the president of the committee. Our main role is to make sure that the public is informed in a way, which ensures nuclear safety. We will see how democracy work if it comes to nuclear questions in Hungary.
(1) The Paks NPP report can be found at: www.atomeromu.hu/hirek-e/angoljelb20301.doc
(2) The HAEA report can be found at: www.haea.gov.hu/english/doc/HAECreport041003_corrected.pdf
(3) The IAEA report can be found at: www.atomeromu.hu/hirek-e/iaea_em2003.pdf
Contact: Ada Amon at Energy Club Hungary, 1056 Budapest, Szerb utca 17-19, Hungary
Tel: +361 411 3534
Fax: +361 411 3529