Žiaková: Ukraine war may spark more nuclear power R&D

Slovaks positive on nuclear power.

Marta ŽiakováMarta Žiaková (Source: TASR)

With the launch of the third unit of the nuclear power plant in Mochovce, Slovakia should become self-sufficient in electricity production within months. Once phased in - a process expected to be completed in early 2023 - it will cover 13 percent of electricity demand in the country, raising the share of nuclear energy as a part of total electricity generated in Slovakia from 52 to 65 percent.

The process of constructing and launching the unit is supervised by the Slovak Nuclear Regulatory Authority (ÚJD SR).

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The Slovak Spectator spoke with MARTA ŽIAKOVÁ, chairperson of ÚJD SR, about the process, new trends in harnessing nuclear energy, and the ongoing decommissioning of two nuclear power plants in Slovakia.

What do people in Slovakia think about the use of nuclear power in the country?

Results of annual surveys we do about the population’s perception of nuclear energy show that most people are in favour of it in Slovakia if it is used safely. The findings of nation-wide surveys and surveys we conduct in regions where nuclear power plants are located do not differ significantly, but acceptance of it is higher in the latter.

Among neighbouring countries, some support nuclear energy, like the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland which is planning to build a nuclear power plant. In Austria, for historical reasons [In a referendum Austrians rejected the launch of the nuclear power plant in Zwentendorf], the stance is more negative. It is very difficult to change such attitudes.

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Could you explain the process of commissioning the third unit at Mochovce?

ÚJD SR supervises construction of the nuclear power plant from the very start, i.e. from the moment plans for the plant are drawn up, but it pays special attention to whether the given design of the nuclear power plant meets safety standards.

After the power plant is assembled, tests of individual devices are carried out first, and then tests of the system itself follow. Following this, tests are done on how individual systems work together to see whether all the systems in the plant work together and we have achieved set goals. All these tests are done without loaded fuel.

When we are convinced that safe operation can begin, the commissioning continues with the loading of fuel into the reactor core. Then tests, first of the physical start-up, i.e. control of nuclear reaction and verification of the core and reactor coolant system behavior, and then of the energetic start-up, i.e. the process of increasing the power of the reactor, verification of the overall plant behavior and finally production of electricity, follow.

These tests check the reliable operation of the facility and its ability to cope with so-called ‘pre-defined states’. For example, testing if the reactor shuts down properly when there is an increase in output somewhere where there shouldn’t be. This allowed us to test all safety systems and whether they work as they were designed to.

What phase of the third unit’s launch has been reached?

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