Breaking new ground. Slovak Premier Vladimír Mečiar lends a hand on August 28 at an official ceremony to mark the inauguration of the country's controversial Mochovce nuclear plant. The ceremony marked the facility's first reactor's hitting 100% capacity.
But Mečiar, who was one hour late for the official ceremony, was plagued by no such doubts. Quoting the defiant last words of Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei, who was executed for heresy, the Slovak Premier likened Galileo's detractors to the critics who had dismissed the Mochovce project. "The cooling towers are working!" Mečiar cried. "There were thoughts that they would never work at all."
Tibor Mikuš, General Director of Slovenské Elektrárne, Mochovce's state-run operator, said that the plant was one "in which Slovak and Czech engineers combined the experience of western European and Russian technicians. Currently, [Mochovce] is the world's safest power plant of its kind."
The claim has been often repeated by the plant's management, even though in mid August the reactor had to be shut down due to a minor shortcoming in its primary circuit. "It was a trivial mistake at the additional water cleaning facility," said Mochovce Director Jaroslav Valach for the daily newspaper Národná Obroda. "It was something like when one of the wheels of your bicycle has a puncture. You just mend it and ride on," Valach explained, adding that the mishap had not influenced the reactor's safety.
After the defect was removed, the reactor was set in operation again and gradually driven up to full output. "The tests that were done proved that all facilities in the first block were ready to operate safely and reliably," said Mochovce spokesman Richard Petrech. According to Petrech, all the tests were carried out under the watch of a team of professional scientists from the Nuclear Supervision Office in Bratislava. The plant then had to pass a special six-day testing period at full production output without interruption before it was allowed to start a trial operation period of six months.
Influential international voices have thrown their support behind Mochovce. "Mochovce is the first Russian-designed nuclear power plant where comprehensive upgrading to an internationally accepted safety level is being implemented," said Dietrich Kuschel, Head of Projects under Construction at the Siemens Power Generation Group, one of the main forces behind Mochovce's upgrade to western safety standards.
But environmental groups such as the indefatigable Greenpeace repeated their opposition to the plant, however it had been improved. "We already have one defective reactor in Slovakia [the A-1 at western Slovakia's Jaslovské Bohunice plant] which has contaminated its surroundings with radioactive pollution for over 20 years," said Ľubica Trubíniová, head of Slovakia's Greenpeace office. "One of the EU requirements for integration declares that the operation of unsafe reactors, such as V1 at Bohunice, must be stopped." Trubíniová added that Slovakia's nuclear policy was dimming its chances for EU integration.
"This is a black day for the anti-nuclear movement and a turn for the worse regarding the efforts to make Europe free from nuclear power plants," seconded Lothar Lockl, the spokesman of the Vienna-based Global 2000 environmental group.
Mochovce has been supplying electricity to the national grid since July when the first of four planned reactors was connected to the network. Mochovce's second reactor is expected to begin operation before September 1999. SE claims that the first two Mochovce units, when running at full output, would account for 15-20% of Slovakia's entire energy production and minimize energy imports, which currently account for 13.5% of overall electricity consumption.
The Mečiar government has done nothing to reassure the plant's critics by using Mochovce to promote the election campaign of the ruling HZDS party. A picture of the spotlighted Mochovce power plant is being used on election billboard ads for the party, with the caption "We pulled it off together!" SE director Mikuš, for his part, is running for the HZDS at 127th position on the party's candidates list for September's national elections.
7. Sep 1998 at 0:00 | Ivan Remiaš