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NEW OWNER OF SLOVENSKÉ ELEKTRÁRNE AIMS TO COMPLETE NUCLEAR POWER FACILITY

Enel plans clear, Austria unhappy

AFTER much speculation, the future of the Mochovce power plant in Bratislava is clear: Enel intends to complete the nuclear facility.
Enel Chairman Paolo Scaroni made no secret of making Mochovce a priority for the Italian power utility that is purchasing a majority share in Slovenské elektrárne. He declared his intentions February 17, the day Economy Minister Pavol Rusko and Scaroni signed documents transferring a 66-percent stake in Slovenské elektrárne to Enel.

AFTER much speculation, the future of the Mochovce power plant in Bratislava is clear: Enel intends to complete the nuclear facility.

Enel Chairman Paolo Scaroni made no secret of making Mochovce a priority for the Italian power utility that is purchasing a majority share in Slovenské elektrárne. He declared his intentions February 17, the day Economy Minister Pavol Rusko and Scaroni signed documents transferring a 66-percent stake in Slovenské elektrárne to Enel.

"By purchasing Slovenské elektrárne shares, Enel re-enters the sphere of nuclear energy, which is very important for us," Scaroni told the press.

Experts warn that the Italian investor does not have the requisite experience to maintain nuclear facilities. Scaroni disagrees.

"Historically, Enel was a nuclear energy producer and owned four nuclear plants in Italy. It also owned a licence for producing nuclear energy," he said.

According to the Enel chairman, the Italian power utility will rely on the expertise of the current executive management in place at Slovenské elektrárne.

Without an operable Mochovce power plant, Slovak energy experts worried that Slovak electricity prices would escalate, a situation that has already happened in many countries that are not self-sufficient. Italy is one such country where prices are high compared to energy-producing nations.

The intention to complete Mochovce, however, raises more serious issues, such as a recent decision made in an Austrian court.

A Vienna district court ruled that the Mochovce nuclear power plant presents a threat to the health and lives of Austrians.

The Vienna court judgement upheld a 1989 lawsuit brought against Mochovce by Eva Glawischnig, Austria's Green party spokesperson and MP, who accused the plant of having inadequate safety technology and being a threat to her and others living in Vienna, about 160 kilometres west of the plant.

Slovenské elektrárne said February 16 that it would challenge the ruling, which orders Slovenské elektrárne to cease operation at Mochovce or modernize its technical equipment.

Slovakia's representative to the European Community's courts, Radoslav Procházka, said that the Austrian verdict is not legally executable in Slovakia. Austria is a historical opponent of Slovakia's nuclear plans. Although the neighbouring country fully acknowledges that Slovakia has the sovereign right to pursue its own energy policy, Austria still stands by its opinion on nuclear energy.

"Nuclear energy is potentially very dangerous and in the worst-case scenario it could have horrible effects, especially in Central Europe, an area that is extremely densely populated. There are the unsolved problems of nuclear waste management and storage as well. We are naturally very sensitive to these issues in Austria, due to the vicinity of various nuclear power plants close to the Austrian border in neighbouring countries," Deputy Ambassador of Austria Marian Wrba told The Slovak Spectator.

According to Wrba, Austria wants Slovakia to place more emphasis to the development of sustainable energy production methods as a part of a long-term perspective.

To the question of whether Austria would try the Mochovce case in an international court, Wrba said no.

"It is a matter of private law, not a dispute between states. Therefore [the case] cannot be brought before an international court. The judgement is not in force yet and not yet legally binding since Slovenské elektrárne has the option to appeal the decision," Wrba said.

However, there are two possibilities remaining in the legal process. The case can come before the Vienna provincial court and the Austrian Supreme Court. If so, and the courts rule against Slovenské elektrárne, then the independent court system in Slovakia would have to decide whether to enforce the ruling.

Wrba says that the recent decision by the Vienna district court in favour of closing Mochovce has helped increase public awareness about energy policy on both sides of the border.

He sees the verdict as a tool to encourage discourse and dialogue among experts and citizens about nuclear energy, its potential safety risks and its sustainability.

Meanwhile, Slovakia's nuclear regulatory authority, the Nuclear Supervision Office (ÚJD), defended Mochovce operations.

International specialists and annual inspections by ÚJD confirm that Mochovce meets international standards for such facilities, ÚJD said in a statement.

"Several international missions, including Austrian specialists, have inspected Mochovce's safety equipment in the past. For example, in May 1998 an inspection mission cited the considerable progress achieved in improving the original project," ÚJD told news wire TASR.

According to the October 2000 mission of Western European Nuclear Regulators' Association (WENRA), Mochovce's safety record was comparable to that of Western European nuclear power plants.

In 2001, Austrian activists filed a lawsuit against Temelín nuclear power plant in the Czech Republic. Austrian courts did not rule in this case and moved it to the Court of Justice of the European Communities.

Leader of the opposition party Smer, Robert Fico, does not think the Enel chairman's intentions to complete the third and fourth units of the Mochovce nuclear power plant are enough to ensure Slovakia's self-sufficiency.

Fico has been a strong opponent of the Slovenské elektrárne privatization deal.

The Economy Ministry spokesman confirmed that "the completion of Mochovce is not included in the transaction documents".

Maroš Kondrót, a Smer member on the parliamentary committee for economy, also remains sceptical whether Enel will complete the Mochovce nuclear power plant.

"My personal opinion - and the opinion of my party - is that the privatization of Slovenské elektrárne was not necessary, and especially not in the way it was actually done. We lack enthusiasm because the power utility was sold to Enel, which does not have experience with nuclear facilities. For the future of Slovakia's economy it was not a good solution," Kondrót told The Slovak Spectator.

Smer still insists that a parliamentary committee investigate the privatization of Slovenské elektrárne. The Economy Ministry opposes the demand.

Meanwhile, Minister Rusko has ambitions to revise the country's energy strategy, established in 1999.

Though the previous strategy is not old, the ministry claims that new developments on world markets require the preparation of an update.

Behind the drive for a new 10-year strategy is the desire to prevent Slovakia's dependence on imported energy.

The solution, according to the Economy Ministry, is to invest Sk70 to 75 billion (€1.7 to 1.8 billion) in the Slovak energy sector.

Altogether, Enel will pay €840 million (Sk32.8 billion) for the 66-percent stake in Slovenské elektrárne.

There are 16 conditions that the investor as well as the Slovak state must meet. Among the most important is the decommissioning of the A1 and V1 nuclear plants in Jaslovské Bohunice, a task that is expected to go to Slovak waste management company, VYZ.

Also included in the pre-conditions of the sale is an operational transfer of the Gabčíkovo hydroelectric facility to the state-run concern Vodohospodárska výstavba.

Although the cabinet gave its approval, it still kept a condition that it would only sell the shares after reviewing Enel's investment plans for Slovenské elektrárne.

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