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Slovakia - the ghost of Soviet nuclear - continued

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Jan Haverkamp

In 2007, the European Greens developed a video to illustrate the atmosphere of manipulation around the development of the Mochovce 3 and 4 nuclear power blocks in Slovakia. It had the title “the Ghost of Soviet Nuclear”. Then, it referred to the fact that an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for this 1970s designed nuclear reactor was refused on the basis of a valid 1986 construction permit – issued well before the ousting of the communist regime in 1989. Also, finances were tweaked by capping the fees for decommissioning and waste for Slovenske Elektrarne (SE), the 66% daughter of the Italian utility ENEL, and financial advantages including a no-dividend period for 34% owner the Slovak State.

Since the release of "the Ghost of Soviet Nuclear" video in 2007, under pressure from the public, a court case run by over a hundred complainants initiated by Greenpeace and Za Matku Zem, and complaints from the European Commission, ENEL and the Slovak Government gave in and started an EIA procedure in 2009. The public was invited to submit comments and hearings were organised in Bratislava, Vienna and Ezstergom (Hungary). ENEL wanted to show that it had nothing to fear and that it can play to the rules. Well, not exactly. From the start, ENEL made clear it did not want to wait for the outcome of the EIA procedure before starting construction. ENEL Director Paolo Ruzzini was shocked by the delay that 4,5 years of court procedures had caused to the Belene nuclear project in Bulgaria and it was made clear from the start that the EIA was not going to cause any delays. The Slovak government allowed the EIA to be finished only before the final operation licence would be given – construction could start.

In the run-up to the EIA hearings, Mochovce spokes person Robert Holy produced a power point presentation to discuss with the Ministry of Environment how to reduce the impact of these meetings. Unfortunately, this document landed in the hands of Energia Klub and Greenpeace in Hungary. The proposed prevention of a hearing in Vienna or blocking dissent by organising a demonstration from nuclear workers in front of the hearing venue did not work. Although the presentation prominently stated that public and media attention had to be kept to the minimum, partly because of this gaffe, the hearings got wide international media coverage. The town of Vienna collected over 200.000 submissions to the EIA procedure. Also Hungary was active, not in the least because of the fact that Hungarian territory in the 30 km zone around Mochovce was conveniently left out of the analysis and emergency organisation structure.

ENEL / SE finished their responses on the input from the public in the end of 2009. From the 99 submissions made by Greenpeace International, 90% was not addressed or the response diverted from the issues raised. Only 3 suggestions were taken over, 2 of them concerning the quality of English of the text. Alternatives were not deemed necessary, the reservoir near the town of Slatina that was build – according to its own EIA – to guarantee cooling water for Mochovce had according to SE nothing to do with the project, nuclear safety and security were not issues to be discussed in an environmental impact assessment. Of course, such omissions and blatant disregard for public participation will be corrected by the responsible authority – in this case the Slovak Environmental Ministry. The Ministry gave an independent auditor the task of assessing all input in the EIA. Independent? Well, not exactly. The auditor is director of the DECOM consultancy, a 100% daughter of VUJE, the main construction contractor of Mochovce 3 and 4. The final assessment therefore follows virtually completely the promoter's remarks. The Ministry finds itself now in court after Greenpeace appealed against this situation.

In the mean time, ENEL / SE started construction. Prime Minister Robert Fico already had cut the ribbon on 3 November 2008, but that was merely a symbolic act to give some pro-nuclear input to the European Nuclear Energy Forum that was to start the next day in Bratislava. The Aarhus Convention on public participation, however, prescribes that public participation, like that during an EIA, has to take place when all options are still open. In plain language that means, before construction is started. The independent building authority UJD, which also happens to be the nuclear regulator, had to give several permissions to continue on the basis of the myriad of changes made in the project. It could have easily held those until the EIA procedures would be finalised, but the Slovak government and ENEL pressed on and UJD gave the go-ahead. As a result, the entire EIA procedure is now under investigation by the UNECE Aarhus Compliance Committee, which is expected to give a verdict before summer. And when the Ministry comes with its final verdict on the EIA report, it is likely that Greenpeace and Za Matku Zem will go to court to test these irregularities also under Slovak and European law.

International Day of Action
Because of the EIA manipulations, concern in Austria has also been growing. A coalition of NGOs has called for a day of action on 24 April, just before Chernobyl Day, to highlight the link between the Soviet Ghosts of that catastrophe and Mochovce, which is only 150 km away from Vienna.

ENEL also ran into trouble with financing the estimated 3 billion Euro budget. In 2008, a bank-loan of 800 million Euro was frozen on request of the nine bank strong consortium because of concerns about the Mochovce project. ENEL then decided to fund the project from its own reserves and now taps into the proceeds of billions of Euros received by the issuing of bonds. Needless to say, none of the bond prospectuses mentions the risks attached to Mochovce.

The Soviet Ghost does not only appear around Mochovce. Slovakia started procedures for a sixth block at the nuclear power plant in Jaslovske Bohunice. This is to be developed by the state utility JAVYS, that is also responsible for nuclear waste and the decommissioning of the three closed blocks in Bohunice. Slovakia chose as strategic partner the Czech energy giant CEZ, of which JAVYS and SE used to be a part before Czecho-Slovakia split in 1993. The choice was made without a public tender, although according to Economy Minister Jahnatek 17 firms had expressed interest. But friends come first. This, however, is against European procurement rules and the European Commission is currently investigating whether the choice of CEZ is not illegal. In the mean time, JAVYS and CEZ founded the firm JESS for implementation of the plan for a new nuclear reactor. CEZ is currently tendering for a constructor of five nuclear power stations in the hope to get a mass-discount. One or maybe even two of them would be destined for Bohunice. Speculation runs wild about whether this will go to the Russian / Czech consortium lead by Skoda JS or whether the former-Soviet friends will dare to open up to something new.

Source: Jan Haverkamp, Greenpeace EU Energy Campaigner, Email:
Contact: * about the International Day of Action against Mochovce: Atomkraftfreie Zukunft, Paula Stegmüller - / * about the Aarhus complaint: Global2000, Patricia Lorenz – / * about the EIA in Slovakia: Greenpeace, Andrea Zlatnanska – / * about the investigations of the European Commission: Greenpeace Jan Haverkamp –