11th Jul 2020

EU commission under fire over Slovak nuclear project

  • Green MEPs say Brussels is supporting the "renaissance aspirations" of the nuclear industry (Photo: Stefan Kühn)

Green lawmakers in the European Parliament have criticised EU energy commissioner Andris Piebalgs for allowing the extended use of a Russian-designed nuclear power plant in Slovakia.

"It is scandalous that commissioner Piebalgs has given the green light to resurrect an outdated nuclear project," reads a joint statement issued by leading green MEPs, Monica Frassoni and Rebecca Harms.

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According to the two parliamentarians, the commission's opinion on the plant, situated in Mochovce, "highlights its complicity with energy giants". "Commissioner Piebalgs is turning a blind eye to the Mochovce project's problems and indulging the renaissance aspirations of the nuclear industry," they said.

The critical statement came shortly after the European Commission on Tuesday (15 July) gave its opinion on the project of Slovenske Elektrarne - owned by Italian energy firm Enel and the Slovak state - to build two reactors for the Mochovce nuclear power plant in western Slovakia.

The two units, type VVER 440/V213 of Russian design, are expected to be up and running by 2012-2013.

It took one year for EU officials to assess "the safety and security aspects" of Slovakia's application to build new reactors, with the country's prime minister, Robert Fico, often expressing frustration over the lengthy process.

The discussions centred around whether Mochovce should have full containment - additional walls of concrete and steel protecting the reactor. This is not something that is required under international standards, but is considered by some as the best method of protection.

The two sides - Bratislava and Brussels - finally agreed that Mochovce's design did not allow for incorporation of a massive structure there. Instead, the commission recommended that the investor ensure "an equivalent level of protection as a full containment".

"Even though the project shows compliance with the current national regulations of the Slovak Republic as well as international recommendations, the commission based its assessment on the best practice available and recommended a set of additional measures," commission spokesperson Ferran Taradellas Espuny told journalists.

Meeting the recommendations would require Enel to thoroughly analyse a potential aircraft crash into the power plant and, based on the analysis, evaluate and implement additional features to withstand such an impact.

"Provided that the commission's recommendations are implemented, the aspects of the investment in question are in line with the objectives of the Euratom Treaty," the spokesperson concluded.

Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico described the commission's viewpoint as "good news".

"It is crucial that the opinion is positive and that it does not burden the investor with impassable requirements", he said.

The Brussels-made suggestions are non-binding and it is up to the investor whether and to what extent they are fulfilled, the commission spokesperson stressed. But the chief of the country's Nuclear Regulatory Authority, Marta Ziakova, said that the project will meet all safety and security parameters required by existing legislation.

The fact that the EU's executive body has settled for a substitution to the full containment structure - even an equivalent one - came under fire from Green MEPs, however.

"This [missing full containment] should have been reason enough for the commission to send a clear No to the Slovak government and Enel," said the Frassoni-Harms' statement.

It concluded by saying: "The European Commission is giving a green light on the basis of the 50-year-old Euratom treaty and a 20-year-old Slovak construction permit that does not respect the modern obligations for a public consultation and environmental impact assessment."

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