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Slovakia's Nuclear Schizophrenia - Shut Down, Continue As Usual, or Boldly Go - Where?

Slovakia's Nuclear Schizophrenia - Shut Down, Continue As Usual, or Boldly Go - Where?

The implosion of the USSR in December 1991 produced massive economic “collateral damage” in its East European allies, as they simultaneously sought both to assert their new-found independence and draw closer to their potential European allies on the western side of 1946’s “Iron Curtain.”

Following the euphoria amity quickly devolved down to practical issues, one of which was that the European Union was leery of welcoming new members after the collapse of Communism that relied on power from Soviet-era nuclear power facilities, especially in the wake of the April 1986 nuclear disaster at Chernobyl in Ukraine.

Accordingly, the last two decades have devolved into a series of unseemly squabbles between Brussels and new Eastern European members, with the EU demanding the prompt shutdown of Soviet-era nuclear power plants, while governments east of Berlin plead understanding and extended timelines to shut down the facilities that provide major electrical input as they search for alternatives.

The latest post Cold War post-Soviet space energy front line is Slovakia.

What to do in Bratislava on the way to becoming good, clean, green members of the European Union?

Shut down all the country’s nuclear power plants and win plaudits in Brussels while inflicting brownouts or blackouts on the locals?

Beg for more time?

Adopt a matrix of energy change which includes some nuclear power while appealing to Brussels?

Right now, the answer is about as clear as the river flowing through Bratislava, “the beautiful Blue Danube,” to quote Richard Strauss.

Slovakia currently has four operational nuclear reactors at complexes in Jaslovske Bohunice and Mochovce, commissioned between 1984 and 1999. The facilities’ three oldest reactors have been shut down in accordance with EU mandates. The Jaslovske Bohunice two online 505 reactors alongside Mochovces’ twin 505 megawatt currently produce a net output of 1,711 megawatt hours of electricity, with nuclear energy currently producing overall approximately 50 percent of Slovakia’s electricity.

Prior to its accession to the European Union in 2004 Slovakia had to shut down two of its older reactors because they did not meet European safety standards. Slovakia made significant efforts to achieve World Association of Nuclear Operators (WANO) standards, but the EU nevertheless insisted on the shutdowns. The first Bohunice reactor closed on 31 December 2006 and the second Bohunice facility two years later. The closure of these units, prior to the completion of two new reactors left Slovakia short on power, with the country briefly becoming an energy importer after the first plant was shut down.

The Slovak government nevertheless seemingly remains committed to nuclear power. Two more reactors have been under construction at Mochovce since 1985 and which should be finished in 2012-2013.

Further complicating the picture beyond the Slovak Republic’s EU membership, Slovenske Elektrarne, a unit of Italy's Enel, is the operator of the two nuclear power plants (NPPs).

But amidst the country’s nuclear quandary, one state agency seems poised for growth.

Jadrova a vyradovacia spolocnost, a.s., Slovakia’s nuclear decommissioning company, better known by the acronym JAVYS, intends to increase its investments this year by $19.5 million, a $4.4 million increase over 2010 funding levels. JAVYS spokesman Dobroslav Dobak said,"Of the planned investments in 2012, we will continue with preparation and implementation of projects related to decommissioning of (Bohunice) nuclear power plants A1 and V1, and projects aimed at reconstruction and construction of technologies used for handling spent nuclear fuel and radioactive waste."

But the downside for Slovak environmentalists is that the global recession has impacted JAVYS funding as well, as last year JAVYS shed nearly 12 percent of its workforce, which now numbers 885 people. Dobak commented, "The decline is mainly related to the change of the status of V1 NPP which is no longer operating but is being decommissioned. Thus it is not necessary to operate several technological systems. At the same time, we optimize and improve effectiveness of our activities."

So, where does Slovakia go from here? EU-friendly green or transitional post-Soviet nuclear?

The answer is anything but clear.

By. John C.K. Daly of Oilprice.com




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