Mochovce, the nuclear reactor that has been at the center of Slovakia's energy debate for several years, appears to finally be on the road toward completion now that Škoda has put its money into the project.
Courtesy of Slovenský energetický podnik
According to the release, Prague-based Energoprojekt and unspecified Russian institutions will be the general project managers. Eighty to 90 percent of the technological materials will come from Škoda in Prague; the German company Siemens AG and the French firm Framatome will provide the remainder. Hydrostav, a Bratislava-based company, will carry out the construction; EZ-Elektrosystémy in Bratislava will take care of the electrical work.
In the market for money
But while the contractors are lining up, the question of financing remains. Škoda's work will cost 15-16 billion Kč ($550-590 million). Slovenské elektrárne and the Slovak government are negotiating with two Czech banks, Komerční Banka and Česká Spořitelna, on 10-year, hard currency loans. The two banks have offered up $200 million each. The Russian cabinet has offered a loan of $80 million, which includes some fuel, and Nomura International, a Japanese company that has expressed great interest lately in investing in Slovakia, has proposed to issue $1 billion in bonds for Slovenské elektrárne.
This spring, the government rejected a 1.45 billion DM loan package offered by the EBRD, because it demanded that the government shut down the country's other nuclear plant, the older Soviet-built Jaslovské Bohunice, by the year 2000. Jozef Šucha, a spokesperson for the Ministry of the Economy, said that that request was "impossible," and Škoda managers said that Czech companies won the bid for the project because they did not include such conditions.
Loans fall by the wayside
Now the EBRD loan, and hopes for an accompanying Western construction plan, have fallen by the wayside. According to the government's document about financing the plant, Slovakia is "considering technical rather than financial assistance" from Electricité de France, the primary contractor under the EBRD plan. Jean Vaujour, EdF's director, insisted that the French power company wants to help guarantee the plant's safety.
"When we have come to Slovakia," he said on September 28, "it is not to build more nuclear power plants but to make them safer." He said EdF wanted to do this by completing Mochovce with safety improvements and shutting down an old reactor at Bohunice.
When that would happen nobody knows. After Škoda's announcement that it had not asked for a shutdown, Economic Minister Ján Ducký quickly announced that the Slovak government planned to close Bohunice within a year of Mochovce's start up. But less than a week later, he made an about-face, stating to the press that "if there is technology available enabling prolongation of the Jaslovské Bohunice power plant's life span, there is no reason to stop it," because the income from its production will be used to pay off the Mochovce loans.
Safety in question
As Mochovce and Bohunice are tied together, so the issues of financing and safety are closing linked. The new, Czech-designed plan will cost about 55 million DM less than the original EBRD proposal.
"The question is whether or not this decrease is coming from the expenses for appropriate nuclear safety," said Ľubica Trubiniová, the director of Greenpeace Slovakia, which has been protesting the project since it began. "Of course all our leaders are officially declaring that the nuclear safety won't be affected by the lower sum of investment, but our reply is that we can't believe that."
Hans Blix, the general director of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), scoffed at such a suggestion. "They [environmental groups] have the tendency to think that the only nuclear power plant that is safe is the one that is closed down or never built."
In fact, during his two-day trip to Slovakia - which included his first visit to Mochovce - Blix made it clear that the IAEA is confident that Mochovce's safety will be up to snuff.
Morris Rosen, the assistant director general for nuclear safety at the IAEA, seconded Blix's comments. "There are 16 Mochovce-type reactors operating and Mochovce will be one level above them with many safety improvements," he said.