(December 9, 2005) Following an 18-minute meeting on September 7, the Hungarian government made a request to the Minister of Justice (in charge of nuclear issues) to prepare a proposal to Parliament on the planned radioactive waste repository at Bátaapáti, and on the planned lifetime extension (PLEX) of the Paks nuclear power plant.
(639.5735) Energia Klub - The resulting resolution proposed gave the preliminary approval required to begin preparations for the construction of a low and middle level radioactive waste repository and for the extension of the operational life of the Paks NPP.
The resolution text was full of errors and incorrect data and while it did seek to explain its very existence, it failed to clarify why the separate issues of PLEX and the approval of a waste repository were treated as one matter. The law stipulates the necessity for parliamentary approval where preparations for the construction of radioactive waste repositories are concerned but does not extend to the issue of PLEX. A preliminary law making is required to allow for a parliamentary discussion on matters concerning the future of Paks, although none was made before Parliament did indeed debate the issue. Further, no decisions should be made and certainly not before the introduction of a long-term energy strategy.
The ambiguous language used in the Atomic Law (116/1996) concerning theoretical approval of radioactive waste repositories contains phrases such as "preparation activities" and "construction of the repository" that are not defined and it is this lack of clarity that allows the law to be abused. The State Court of Auditors has also uttered this criticism.
Prior to the proposal's discussion, it was reviewed by two parliamentary committees - one for the environmental, the other economic. Energy Club sent an open letter to the environment committee on October 6, including fact sheets on the problems related to the Bátaapáti project and the PLEX of Paks. The organization also attended both committee meetings in order to ensure its views were heard as well as forwarding those from Austria, which in line with the Espoo Convention sent comments on the EIA for the PLEX. The committee's performed their evaluations of the proposal on October 25 and all four political parties voted in favour except for two opposition party (FIDESZ) MPs in the environment committee.
On November 3, Energy Club then sent an open letter, signed by 21 environmental organizations, to all MPs asking them to reject the proposal - the group received no responses to date. Energy Club and another green group, Védegylet, also held a press conference to focus attention on the letter highlight and the issue. Days later, the two organizations initiated an advertisement campaign featuring the signatures of 80 well known Hungarians (environmentalists, journalists, scientists, artists etc.) carrying the message "There are only alternatives to Paks" (referring to the nuclear lobby's claims that there are no alternatives) that was published in the leading Hungarian daily Népszabadság, and which later also ran in another daily, Magyar Hírlap, and three weekly newspapers. This was quite a coup given the difficulties the groups had encountered in getting the ad campaign published at all! The main opposition (conservative) daily refused it without giving any reasons, as did the Magyar Hírlap at first, although it did make reference to commercial interests in its explanation (Paks being amongst their most important advertisers) but followed suite once Népszabadság had run the ad. The fact that a press release had been issued announcing the campaign and naming the newspapers refusing to print the paid advertisement helped cause a scandal and likely helped force the newspapers' change of heart.
On the same day, Parliament began general discussions on the resolution proposal but since four modification proposals (prepared by Energy Club as one modification but split into four by MPs) were submitted to the original resolution, no vote could be taken. The debate lasted for just over two hours and in that time only one MP, Zoltan Illes of the opposite party (Fidesz, Young Democrats) voiced opposition to PLEX.
The two most important modifications - one of which rejects the Bátaapáti scheme and does not modify Paks, the other one vice versa - were accepted by the environmental committee on November 10. Interestingly, none of the government's MPs on the committee showed up to vote but the opposition members came out in favour of the two modifications, which was strange considering that the opposition is also in favour of PLEX. The economical committee did however vote against the modifications.
A detailed debate lasting one hour and a half, including the modifications, was held in Parliament on November 14 and consisted of Zoltan Illes arguing against the whole Parliament. Seven days later the vote on the modifications was finally held. The first modification, which excludes the Bátaapáti part, but leaves PLEX unchanged, gained 7 "yes" votes (out of the 386 MPs) and 4 abstentions, the second modification got 10 "yes" votes and 8 abstentions, thus neither modification was accepted. This was followed by a vote on the proposal's original text and this was accepted with 339 'yes' votes, 4 'no's' and 8 abstentions.
The discussions during the general and detailed debate were preposterous. The pro nuclear MPs kept repeating the same unreliable mantra over and over - that Hungary needs Paks for electricity, that renewables are too expensive to replace nuclear, that Paks would help fulfil Kyoto targets. There was no response to the questions posed and facts provided by Zoltan Illes and no other voices of opposition.
It seems that a political decision has been made and that the political elite have succeeded in pushing this proposal through parliament rapidly, excluding the public from the decision-making process. The entire process was completely undemocratic. Energy Club was not given the opportunity to express its opposition fully as it was only allowed to address the economic committee meeting for a few minutes - the committee chair was irritated at having to allow it at all, claiming that the public debate was long over and that Energy Club should have spoken then, which was ridiculous since no public hearing was ever held on those specific issues.
The most shocking aspect of the proposal being approved is that the PLEX of Paks was agreed despite the fact that the government has no political energy concept! It has made a decision on this huge issue determining Hungary's energy policy for the next 30 years, without having a clue about what the country's energy needs might be over the next ten years, let alone thirty. Without conducting a single study or analysing any data on energy consumption or supplies, MPs of all parties (with the exception of Mr Illes) have shown themselves to be vulnerable to the manipulations of the nuclear lobby by voting in favour of the lifetime extension of a dangerous nuclear power plant instead of casting their vote for the betterment of Hungary and its citizens.