Nuclear delays foiled by treaty

SLOVAKIA must close down reactors 1 and 2 of the V1 nuclear power plant at Jaslovské Bohunice by 2006 and 2008, respectively, in line with the EU Accession agreement.

SLOVAKIA must close down reactors 1 and 2 of the V1 nuclear power plant at Jaslovské Bohunice by 2006 and 2008, respectively, in line with the EU Accession agreement.

After talks with European Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs on April 8, Economy Minister Pavol Rusko admitted that his efforts to delay the closure of one of the reactors failed.

Rusko had hoped to close down both blocks simultaneously in 2008. Commissioner Piebalgs said the exact terms of the EU accession treaty were legally binding.

Rusko started lobbying for a simultaneous shut down of the reactors last year. He argued that closing the blocks at the same time was a safer option than closing them in subsequent years.

"We did not succeed despite the fact that the commissioner understands that subsequent closure will heighten the safety risk. He assumes that delaying the closure of one block would merit a violation of the accession treaty. Evidently we came too late with the proposal," Rusko told news wire SITA. He added that the ministry would have succeeded if it had initiated the step two or three years ago.

Rusko responded to the commissioner's news by saying that Slovakia must now focus on obtaining the necessary funds to support the initial closure of the blocks, and then later, decommissioning.

"The commissioner promised to place this problem on his agenda, which gives us space to demand higher financial support," stated Rusko.

Last year the European Commission proposed to give Slovakia €237 million (Sk9.21 billion) over the 2007 to 2013 period to close and decommission the blocks at Bohunice. Slovak officials, however, say the sum is too low and want it increased.

EU members do not yet agree on how address Slovakia's financial concerns. Some of them prefer to save and cut expenditures, news wire TASR wrote.

European Commissioner Ján Figeľ says that Slovakia is entitled to further assistance for the decommissioning of its nuclear blocks.

"The Slovak government should negotiate with member states very specifically and intensively because, at this stage, member states are entitled to decide on the financial programme," said Figeľ.

Just as Commissioner Piebalgs communicated his take on the issue, Slovenské elektrárne, the country's major power producer, announced that shutting down the reactors in subsequent years would increase the safety risks.

"The safety risk would be lower if both blocks were decommissioned together in 2008," Slovenské elektrárne spokesperson Rastislav Petrech told The Slovak Spectator.

"One needs to be aware that the reactors are constructed as twins and there are many interconnections between the two. We certainly will take all the necessary measures to secure the safe switch-off of the reactors," Petrech added.

According to Petrech, the safety of the V1 nuclear power plant has been gradually increased through a series of reconstruction projects starting in 1996 and ending in 2001.

"We have lifted the power plant to European standards, which means that we have also increased the probability of the plant's safety by 10 times.

However, during this period of reconstruction, interconnections between the blocks were created to increase the safety levels. It means that when one of the blocks is turned off, the functioning reactor assumes some of the safety mechanisms for the halted one," Petrech explained.

"We are certainly not considering closing down both blocks in 2006," said Petrech.

"In the same way as there are interconnections between the reactors there are so-called umbilical cords between the two nuclear power plants (V1 and V2), for example, electricity and steam. When both blocks of V2 are turned off, we can supply steam from V1. We would lose this comfort zone if we switched off all of V1 in 2006. We need to prepare to reliably run the V2 nuclear power plant without the V1 reactor," Petrech told The Slovak Spectator.

Petrech confirmed that Slovenské elektrárne started preparations for closing the blocks two years ago.

The additional security risk that subsequent closure presents was confirmed by a study conducted by the Relko agency. Renowned international institutes such as the British Nuclear Group, Austrian Enconet and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) concurred with study's findings. Slovakia's Nuclear Safety Supervisory Office had invited IAEA to review the study.

In late March, Slovakia declared that it would not pursue any change to its accession treaty with the EU in order to modify plans to close the nuclear reactor later than originally agreed.

On March 15, Rusko assured his Austrian counterpart Martin Bartenstein that Slovakia would not breach the EU accession treaty with new nuclear policies. Slovakia's environment-conscious neighbour has been concerned that Slovakia would not meet the nuclear closedown deadline.

"The accession treaty is crystal clear on this issue: Slovakia commits to the closure of unit 1 of the Bohunice V1 nuclear power plant by 31 December 2006 and unit 2 of this plant by 31 December 2008 at the latest, and to subsequent decommissioning of these units," Deputy Ambassador of the Austrian Embassy Marian Wrba told The Slovak Spectator in March.

According to Wrba, the Accession Treaty has the status of EU Primary Law, which means that no party of the accession treaty is in the position of accepting changes unilaterally, bilaterally or even multilaterally without opening the accession treaty as a whole in a new intergovernmental conference.

"The provisions of the accession treaty, however, stipulate deliberately that December 31, 2006 and December 31, 2008 are final deadlines 'at the latest', which explicitly allows Slovakia to close the reactors together before December 31, 2006, if it prefers. For the subsequent decommissioning process, no deadline is set," Wrba said.

(Magdalena MacLeod
contributed to the report.)

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