Nuclear costs also include cleanup

NUCLEAR energy accounted for 56.9 percent of Slovakia’s electricity production in 2014, but the costs include more than just production as they also reflect costs of decommissioning old reactors and storing radioactive waste and spent fuel.

The nuclear power station in Mochovce.The nuclear power station in Mochovce. (Source: Sme)

While today’s situation already reflect this, this was not the case in the past when future decommissioning and cleanup were not part of the recognised costs, meaning that there are still debts to be covered.

“Historical debt includes decommissioning of A1 [the shutdown nuclear power station in Jaslovské Bohunice] and partly the lack of funds in the case of the early shutdown of V1 [in the nuclear power station in Jaslovské Bohunice],” Miroslav Obert, the state secretary of the Economy Ministry, told The Slovak Spectator.

The debt is covered by a fee paid by electricity consumers within the electricity price and calculated from electricity consumption. From July 2015, this fee increased from €3.15/MWh to €3.21/MWh of energy consumed. End-users will pay €68 million this year and €71 million in 2016 for that old debt, the SITA newswire reported.

Lenka Ferenčáková, chief-editor of the website, says that the debt was incurred as leaders did not think of covering the costs of decommissioning nuclear plants after the 1970s oil price shocks.

“The only important task was to build and operate power plants,” Ferenčáková told The Slovak Spectator. “Additionally, the shuttered block at the A1 left a large financial burden.”

A1 in Jaslovské Bohunice was the nuclear power plant built in what is now Slovakia. It was a prototype nuclear power station fuelled by natural uranium that supplied electricity between 1972 and 1977. It did not resume operations after a refuelling accident in 1977.

Now it is the National Nuclear Fund (NJF), established in 2006, that collects money for coverage of the final stage of peaceful usage of nuclear energy. It collects charges from the operator of nuclear power stations in Slovakia, i.e. Slovenské Elektrárne, among others.

However, Ferenčáková said that end-users paid a portion of the future need through NJF funds coming from the state budget.

Besides these funds, Slovakia receives compensation for an early shutdown of the V1 power station in Bohunice from the Bohunice International Decommissioning Support Fund (BIDSF) managed by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, she added.

Decommissioning works

The second phase of decommissioning now under way at the A1 plant covers removal of the outer building structures, disposal of the cooling systems and external tanks for the storage of liquid radioactive waste, as well as cleaning contaminated soil and groundwater.

The ongoing decommissioning process is projected to end in 2033 at the latest.

Similarly, both blocks of the plant V1 in Bohunice are in the second phase of decommissioning.

The two blocks of the V1 nuclear power plant were connected to the power grid in 1978 and 1980. Slovakia disconnected them from the grid in 2006 and 2008 to fulfil a commitment made prior to entering the European Union to completely close down the facility. The deadline for the end of decommissioning is 2025.

The speed at which such facilities are decommissioned is driven by minimising radiation doses and the release of radioactive materials, processing public procurement and monitoring of project implementation, according to Agáta Staneková, spokeswoman of Nuclear Power and Decommissioning Company (JAVYS).

“At appointed intervals, supervisory bodies undertake an assessment of nuclear safety,” Staneková told The Slovak Spectator.

Managing fuel and waste

Nuclear plants’ spent fuel is stored underwater in a pool close to reactors for three to five years in order to reduce the residual power and heat. Then it is transported to the so-called Interim Spent Nuclear Fuel Storage in Jaslovské Bohunice, which has a capacity of 14,112 fuel cartridges, according to JAVYS.

JAVYS plans to increase the storage capacity to 32,000 fuel cartridges on the basis of the anticipated power plants operational life of 60 years,” Staneková said.

Vladimír Slugeň from the Institute of Nuclear and Physical Engineering of the Slovak University of Technology prognoses that whereas ideally concentrated and now stored spent nuclear fuel contains approximately 150 m3 of high-level radioactive waste, after 60 years there could be only about 500 m3, including waste from unfinished blocks of the nuclear power station three and four in Mochovce. On the other hand, its high activity and environmental protection measures for thousands of years makes this a serious topic.

Finally, all high-level waste including spent fuel would be stored in a so-called deep repository. No country has such a permanent repository so far, although Sweden, Finland and France are relatively far in developing them.

“In 10 years it is expected to launch the first projects, for example in the Finnish locality Onkalo,” Ferenčáková said.

Low-level radioactive waste is reduced and fixed in a matrix of fibre-concrete containers that are stored in 7.5 double-rows with capacity of 3,600 PCs in the Country Repository of Radioactive Waste in Mochovce.

Slugeň mentioned that the development of the first Slovak deep repository began in 1996, and could be put into operation in the year 2065.

“From the current five considered localities, two candidate sites should be chosen as a main and a backup site by 2030,” Slugeň said.

Additionally, spent nuclear fuel could be also effectively recycled. Methods for re-utilising fissile materials have been in place since the 1970s, Slugeň said.

Among the world’s most notable commercial re-utilisation plants are in La Hague and Marcoule in France, Sellafield in UK, Tokai-Mura in Japan and Majak in Russia, according to JAVYS.

Ferenčáková added that fuel produced by the French company AREVA could be recycled up to 97 percent and in France they have recycled about 17 percent of fuel so far.

However, the Slovak National Programme for Spent Fuel and Radioactive Waste Management does not expect to include reprocessing of the spent nuclear fuel for now, although not excluding the possibility for the future, according to Jana Burdová, spokesperson of SE.

“We continuously monitor its possibility and evaluate its economic efficiency,” said Burdová.

Future nuclear power

In November, SE launched the testing phase in the third block of the Mochovce nuclear power plant with plans to start commercial operation at the end of 2016, according to the SITA newswire.

Under construction is also the fourth block in Mochovce which could be put into operation in 2017.

Plans for a brand new nuclear power station in Jaslovské Bohunice are also in the pipeline.

There is a also a long-term plan to build a new nuclear power station in Jaslovské Bohunice. Tibor Mikuš, chairman of the Slovak Nuclear Forum (SJF), pointed out that Jaslovské Bohunice is optimal for a new plant because of its seismic conditions, the availability of cooling water in the vicinity, power-duct options, access roads, supply and social infrastructure and the lack of civil and military flight corridors.

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