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Debate over nuclear power continues

Now that the government and Italian power producer Enel have announced plans to complete the power plant in Mochovce, non-governmental organizations are calling on the authorities to study the cheapest way to develop the country's energy sector.

Now that the government and Italian power producer Enel have announced plans to complete the power plant in Mochovce, non-governmental organizations are calling on the authorities to study the cheapest way to develop the country's energy sector.

Energy of the Third Millennium and Energy 2000 want the public to have a chance to discuss the study.

The Slovak government is considering building new power stations, in addition to the two unfinished blocks at Mochovce that will be completed by Enel.

NGOs say experience with nuclear energy programmes shows that nuclear power stations are the most expensive source of electrical energy production. In a market economy without high state subsidies, they would be highly ineffective to operate, they said.

The energy produced by nuclear power stations does not produce enough money to cover the full cost of decommissioning and liquidating power stations, processing nuclear waste, and constructing dumps for highly radioactive nuclear waste.

It will cost four times more to finish the third and fourth blocks at Mochovce than to construct a gas powered plant with the same output of electrical energy and heat. It would also cost 2.5 times more than building a wind power station or a biomass energy plant, the NGOs said.

Vladimír Slugeň from the Slovak Nuclear Society NGO said that nuclear power stations undoubtedly require the highest investments, and during their operation they have to transfer from four to 10 percent of the proceeds from energy they sell to decommissioning funds. Depending on the type of the plant, the investment can be as high as Sk68 billion to Sk170 billion (€2 billion to €5 billion) with a long-term return.

"However, nuclear plants normally get a return on investments in 10 to 15 years," said Slugeň.

"The lifespan of the most modern nuclear plants is 60-plus years," he continued, adding that their overall economic advantage is evident.

"Fears of anti-nuclear hysteria and its use in the political fight have been, over the last few years, a significant factor in how many countries approach nuclear power stations," said Slugeň. "I believe that now, common sense and logical arguments stemming from technical advances and informed environmental awareness will outweigh this factor."

He referred to comments made by Greenpeace founder Patrick Moore, who, according to Slugeň, agrees that "nuclear energy is the only relevant energy source not causing a greenhouse effect that is capable of replacing fossil fuels and satisfying global energy needs."

But not everyone agrees. "Nuclear energy is perhaps not causing global climate changes, but it still cannot be considered an environmentally clean source of energy," said Juraj Rizman, spokesman for Greenpeace in Slovakia.

Rizman said nuclear energy cannot be called "green" because extracting and processing uranium creates dangerous nuclear waste.

"It produces highly radioactive waste that becomes an environmental hazard for thousands of years," Rizman said.

Slugeň still sees the revival of nuclear energy as the only effective instrument in the fight against rising emissions from burning fossil fuels.

"For mankind, it is inconceivable to give up energy, and that is why we are looking for energy sources that fulfil economic and ecological requirements to the largest extent," Slugeň said.

Slugeň added that fuel supplies for nuclear plants are far away from being exhausted, especially as a greater number of faster reactors are being used.

"There are also known technologies for acquiring uranium from sea water, for example," he said.

Though the price of uranium might climb as new nuclear plants are constructed, the price of fuel still makes up only four percent of electric energy production costs, he added.

According to Slugeň, nuclear energy has a great future, especially as a combined source of electricity, heat and hydrogen that could gradually replace oil for transportation uses.

-Robert Valjent

Country Location Reactor Type
Finland Olkiluoto EPR 1650 MW started in 2004
France Flamanville EPR 1650 MW started in 2006
Bulgaria Belene Belene VVER
-1000 2 blocks
started in 2006
Slovakia Mochovce VVER-440
2 blocks
To start in 2007
Romania Cerna Voda CANDU
750 MW
Completed by 2007

Source: Vladimír Slugeň of the Slovak Nuclear Society

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