Funding gaps remain in decommissioning of East European reactors

20 September 2016

The estimated cost of decommissioning Soviet-designed, first-generation nuclear power reactors in  Bulgaria, Lithuania and Slovakia will be at least €5.7 billion ($6.4 billion), according to the European Court of Auditors. However, it warns this could double if the cost of disposing of high-level radioactive waste is included.

Ignalina - aerial - 460 (IAE)
The two RBMK units at Lithuania's Ignalina plant (Image: IAE)

The European Court of Auditors' mission is to contribute to improving European Union (EU) financial management, promote accountability and transparency, and act as the independent guardian of the financial interests EU citizens. Its role as the EU's independent external auditor is to check that EU funds are correctly accounted for, are raised and spent in accordance with the relevant rules and regulations and have achieved value for money.

As part of their accession agreements to become members of the EU, Bulgaria, Lithuania and Slovakia agreed to the early closure and subsequent decommissioning of eight Soviet-era "non-upgradeable" reactors. These comprised units 1 to 4 of Bulgaria's Kozloduy plant; units 1 and 2 of the Ignalina plant in Lithuania; and units 1 and 2 of Slovakia's Bohunice V1 plant. These were shut down between 2002 and 2009. In return, the EU agreed to provide financial contributions to the three countries to compensate for the "exceptional social, economic and financial burden" of meeting this demand.

Between 1999 and 2020, EU support to Bulgaria, Lithuania and Slovakia for decommissioning those plants will have totalled €2.95 billion - €1.55 billion to Lithuania, €731 million to Bulgaria and €671 million to Slovakia. In addition, in the period up to 2013, the EU provided €890 million for energy projects designed to compensate for the loss of generating capacity in those countries due to the early reactor closures.

The European Court of Auditors said today, the gap between decommissioning costs and financing in Lithuania has increased to €1.56 billion since the last audit in 2011, while the financing gaps in Bulgaria and Slovakia are estimated at €28 million and €92 million, respectively.

"Member States' co-financing of EU programs remains very limited," the auditors said. "The dedicated EU funding programs for nuclear decommissioning have not created the right incentives for timely and cost-effective decommissioning, with nearly all the key infrastructure projects having experienced delays."

While authorities in Bulgaria, Lithuania and Slovakia claim the plants have been irreversibly closed, the European Court of Auditors noted, "Not all of the expected outputs used by the European Commission to assess progress towards irreversible closure have been fully met". It says that while decommissioning of such plant components as the turbine halls is well advanced, "critical challenges" remain for work on decommissioning the reactor buildings. There have also been delays in the construction of key infrastructure projects for waste management at the reactor sites.

The auditors have recommended the European Commission seeks to increase national co-financing of the decommissioning projects between 2014 and 2020. It also suggests dedicated funding programs for decommissioning in Bulgaria, Lithuania and Slovakia should be discontinued after 2020. The auditors also suggest those countries should improve their project management and build up their technical capacity, as well as establishing more complete cost estimates and financing plans for the disposal of used fuel and radioactive waste. They should also improve cooperation between themselves and other EU member states and beyond.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News