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NEW NUCLEAR PLANTS ARE LIKELY, TO THE DISMAY OF ENVIRONMENTALISTS

Slovakia wedded to nuclear power

THOUGH Slovakia will try to move towards more renewable energy sources, nuclear power has an unshakeable place in the energy plans that will guide the country until 2030, at least according to a document that Economy Minister Ľubomír Jahnátek presented in late September 2007.

THOUGH Slovakia will try to move towards more renewable energy sources, nuclear power has an unshakeable place in the energy plans that will guide the country until 2030, at least according to a document that Economy Minister Ľubomír Jahnátek presented in late September 2007.

To confirm nuclear's status in national energy plans the Economy Ministry on March 3 submitted for inter-departmental review a proposal to build a new nuclear facility near Jaslovské Bohunice (in western Slovakia).

"Based on the strategy laid out in the energy security document, nuclear sources seem to be the most effective and economically-advantageous way of generating power with the lowest environmental contamination," reads the Economy Ministry's proposal.

Slovakia plans to invest in its existing nuclear facilities, for instance by completing construction of the third and fourth reactors at the Mochovce nuclear power plant (also in western Slovakia) as well construction of two new reactors at Jaslovské Bohunice.

Though the government has been toying with the idea of a completely new nuclear power plant in eastern Slovakia, state officials stressed that it remains a long-term proposal.

Until 2006, Slovakia was self-sufficient in electricity and had been exporting about 5 percent of the power it produced, according to the document.

The country switched off the first V1 double-reactor block at Jaslovské Bohunice in late 2006 to comply with European Union regulations on decommissioning outdated Soviet-designed nuclear plants.

The second block will be powered down by the end of this year.

The definite switch-off the first block in 2006 moved Slovakia from being in surplus to slight deficit, which it has covered by importing electricity. Last year, Slovakia imported 6 percent of its total electricity consumption, the Economy Ministry's document reads.

With the planned switch-off of the second reactor block at Jaslovské Bohunice Slovakia will become dependent on electricity imports from foreign countries, according to the document.

The completion of the two blocks in Mochovce will cost approximately Sk62 billion or €1.8 billion.

Depending on the technology the government chooses, the new Bohunice V3 project might consume Sk100 billion.

Slovakia's major energy player is happy with the government's nuclear energy plan.

The bulk of the Sk110-billion investment that major power producer Slovenské Elektrárne plans for the next five years will go into nuclear energy, said Juraj Kopřiva, the company's spokesman.

In February 2007, the power producer publicly declared its intention to complete the Mochovce project and has already kicked off the procurement process.

The contracts for the nuclear and non-nuclear parts of the two units will be awarded by this summer, Kopřiva told The Slovak Spectator.

According to Kopřiva, there are now approximately 350 people working to prepare logistics for the forthcoming construction in Mochovce.

"At its peak there will be 3,500 people working on the site," he added.

According to Kopřiva, nuclear generation is a feasible way to cover the base-load requirements of the power grid, since nuclear has the lowest generation costs.

"On the other hand, thermal is very flexible and has a wide operational range. However, thermal energy is pretty expensive, considering the cost of coal and also the cost of emission quotas," Kopřiva said. "Therefore, you can operate thermal power plants only during peak consumption, when the wholesale electricity prices are high enough to cover your costs."

However, environmentalists, though acknowledging that the advantage of nuclear power is low emissions of greenhouse gas, remain concerned about several aspects of nuclear power use.

"The main fact which mitigates against development of nuclear plants is the unsolved problem of spent fuel," said Karel Polanecký of environmental watchdog Greenpeace. "Optimistic declarations about future technologies that will turn this highly dangerous material into usable raw material are completely baseless."

Most nuclear countries have looked into the possibility of constructing a permanent storage site for spent fuel but the results are not encouraging.

"Nuclear energy, as a developed industry, should not benefit from public financial support in the form of direct or indirect subsidies either for the construction of nuclear plants or their decommissioning," said Polanecký.

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