Slovak nuclear plant to restart in days?

12 January 2009

Slovakia is preparing the Bohunice V1 unit 2 reactor for recommissioning less than two weeks after it was closed. The plant could be restarted within days unless gas flows from Russia resume, Slovakian prime minister Robert Fico has said.

 

Slovakia closed the 408 MWe VVER 440 reactor on 31 December 2008 as a conditions of its 2004 accession to the European Union. However, it has suffered severely under the current gas supply crisis afflicting many European countries as the knock-on effect of the refusal by Gazprom of Russia to supply gas to Ukraine. According to European Union (EU) figures, Slovakia's gas supply has been cut by 97%. The country is facing the threat of a blackout, according to Fico – while daytime temperatures in the Slovak capital Bratislava are currently as low as -6ºC.

 

Some affected countries

Country  

Cut

Bulgaria

100%

Serbia

100%

Bosnia

100%

Macedonia

100%

Slovakia

97%

Czech Republic 71%

Austria

66%

Slovenia

50%

Hungary

45%

Italy

25%

France

15%


Source: EC

The final decision on whether to recommission the reactor will depend on the success of a new supply deal hammered out by EU and Russian representatives in Brussels today, in which Russia promised that gas transit would resume tomorrow at 8am Central European Time. Before the agreement, Slovakia's economy minister was ready to issue a directive to recommission the reactor. It would appear that the Brussels deal has changed the situation, but much depends on the Slovakian perspective of when the country's energy crisis finally comes to an end.

 

 

The EU called for Slovakia to close the Bohunice V1 units (the first was shut down at the end of 2006) on safety grounds as a condition of its accession to the EU. The closure of the units has long been a contentious issue for Slovakia, as the units had undergone major refurbishment, including replacement of the emergency core cooling systems and modernising the control systems, to bring them up to modern safety standards. Fico expressed his regret that restarting the unit would mean violating the accession treaty. "(W)e aren't doing it for pleasure. We were forced into it by a crisis situation," he said.

 

Slovakia's staunchly anti-nuclear neighbour Austria has already voiced its opposition to a possible restart of Bohunice V1 unit 2, despite itself suffering a 66% cut in its gas supplies as a result of the crisis.

 

Observers in place

 

Gazprom cut off gas supplies for use in Ukraine on 1 January as a result of a pricing dispute, but distributor Naftogaz Ukrainy remained obliged to allow supplies for central and western Europe to flow. The apparent failure of this to happen triggered a new blame game which resulted in teams of EU monitors being dispatched to ensure supplies are being passed on.

Speaking in his capacity as the current President of the European Council, Czech prime minister Mirek Topolánek said on 11 January that a declaration signed by all relevant parties should mean an end to the crisis situation regarding gas shortages in EU member states. The EC Presidency also appealed to both Russia and Ukraine to resolve their commercial dispute on and to find a "long-term, sustainable solution to their energy relations."

 

Meanwhile, Hungarian gas company Emfesz LLC has filed a lawsuit against Naftogaz for its failure to deliver. It has also lodged a complaint against Ukraine for a breach of its obligations under the European Energy Charter.

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