In the wake of the March Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan and Germany’s subsequent decision in June to close all of its 18 nuclear power plants between 2015 and 2022, the European Union is turning its eyes eastwards to new EU members Bulgaria, Lithuania and Slovakia, offering further funding to ensure that its Soviet-era nuclear reactors remain out of service permanently.
On 24 November the European Commission proposed to provide further EU assistance worth $662 million to support the final closure after earlier decommissioning of Bulgaria’s Kozloduy nuclear power plant (NPP), Lithuania’s Ignalina facility and Slovakia’s Bohunice nuclear station.
The good news for the trio is that under terms of the proposal, Bulgaria will receive an additional $245million until 2020. Lithuania will receive $278 million until 2017 and Slovakia $139 million until 2017.
The bad news for the three countries is that before the EU financial support will be provided, all three nations will have to meet certain conditions, including complying with current EU legislation on nuclear safety and the management of nuclear waste as well as developing legal frameworks to generate the necessary national financial resources to cover the remaining fiscal needs.
Lithuania is already decrying the deal. The same day that the proposal was unveiled Lithuanian Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius released a statement commenting, "The current proposal is not acceptable for us, as it does not comply with the commitments enshrined in the (EU) accession treaty of Lithuania."
Lithuania's Ignalina-1 RBMK reactor complex was shut down on 31 December 2004 as a precondition of the country joining the European Union and its sister 1,185 megawatt Ignalina-2 RBMK NPP complex was shuttered on 31 December 2009, even though the Ignalina-2 complex provided 72.3 percent overall of the country's electrical needs. Kubilius underlined that Lithuania's EU accession treaty had noted that the Ignalina NPP's closure was "an exceptional burden not commensurate with the economic strength of the country. The EU committed to provide adequate financial assistance for the decommissioning."
Lithuania is particularly irate because it is part of the Russian electricity grid, and after the closure of Ignalina, has been forced import more than 80 percent of its electrical and natural gas energy needs from Russia, which has been only too glad to charge Vilnuis world market rates for its exports. Undoubtedly adding to Kubilius’s anger is that the Russian Federation intends to export electricity from its 2,300 megawatt Kaliningrad Nuclear Power Plant, currently under construction and scheduled for completion in 2016, with Moscow eagerly labeling Kaliningrad’s electrical exports to neighbors including Lithuania and Germany a potential “cash cow” as they struggle with their own electrical output because of their progressive but expensive nuclear energy policies.
In a more upbeat tone EU Commissioner for Energy Gunther Oettinger said, "It is in our citizens' interest, that these reactors will be safely decommissioned and that they will never be restarted again. This additional financial support will help the three Member States to timely progress in defueling and decommissioning of these nuclear reactors. This is a clear expression of solidarity of the EU, which has put nuclear safety as a priority." To put Oettinger’s comments in a somewhat different light, the EU has already invested $3.7 billion in funding for decommissioning the three nations’ NPP’s old reactors.
However, Bulgaria, Slovakia and Lithuania maintain that they have suffered losses of tens of billions of dollars as a result of the early closure of reactors, which were licensed to operate many more years. The trio had previously appealed for compensation for the losses, but the Commission insisted that EU funding could only cover decommissioning activities.
In all, EU member nations operate 143 NPPS, of which France maintains 59, the highest of any member state.
In a final development sure to infuriate further the governments of Bulgaria, Lituania and Slovakia, the same day that their decomissioning funds with strings attached was offered, the European Commission released the preliminary findings of a series of "stress tests" requested by national governments on their nuclear facilities after Fukushima. The tests were designed by the European Nuclear Safety Regulators Group to measure "extreme natural events (like earthquakes and flooding), response to the plants prolonged loss of electrical power, and severe accident management."
Perhaps not surprisingly, not a single regulator identified urgent safety improvements, while almost all provided "limited" to "very limited information" according to the European Commission's own statement.
Equally not surprisingly, the Green group in the European Parliament labeled the findings a "charade." German MEP and group vice-president Rebecca Harms told a press conference, "The tests totally fail to address the risks to nuclear power plants in Europe. The tests not only fail to assess the risks posed by internal factors - like fires, human failures or the degradation or malfunctioning of essential infrastructure. They also fail to assess the risks of external threats - such as the impact of an airplane crash."
So, the bottom line from all this?
For the new Eastern European EU member states – dispose of your Soviet-era nuclear trash – as for NPPS of the same age designed and built in Europe, they’re just fine, thank you.
By. John C.K. Daly of Oilprice.com