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EUROPE NOT WILLING TO ACCEPT BULGARIAN NUCLEAR WASTE

The partners' inspection of the Kozlodoui Nuclear Power Station is to begin next November, Milko Kovachev, Minister of Energy, said. The experts from the European Union Group for Nuclear Affairs will inspect the procedures for decommissioning the N-plant's first two units, the condition and the safety of genetators 3 and 4, the ecological problems in the station, as well as the measures for preservation of utilized nuclear fuel and the processing of radioactive waste. According to Minister Kovachev, the inspection may serve as grounds for further negotiations on the deadlines for closing Kozlodoui's reactors 3 and 4.In the middle of the summer record heats, West European countries announced the start of a red regime and warned about possible problems with the electricity supply. To the East, on the contrary, power failure is not expected. One reason for the tranquility is the more restricted use of air conditioners, another is the availability of sufficient amount of electricity.The power supply in the national energy network is stable and safe, the National Electricity Company (NEC) announced. Besides, Bulgaria covers 75% of the deficit in the region. In August, the exported electricity will reach 699 million kWh, while the amount negotiated for September is 550 million kWh. A great part of it is generated by Kozlodoui nuclear reactors. The 1,000-megawatt block 5 of the N-plant stopped operating last week because of 8-day repairs, but the 440-megawatt reactor 3 was included in the energy system.It seems, then, that there are no problems in Kozlodoui. The only possible fear may be felt by the nuclear experts and it has something to do with the partners' inspection, promised by Brussels. The inspection will determine the future of the second pair of small reactors in the Bulgarian nuclear power station, and, therefore, the future of the national energy sector as a whole. Apparently, though, the coming inspection does not bother the ministers who have put off for September the approval of a single national position on the earlier decommissioning of Kozlodoui's units 3 and 4. They did it, regardless of the fact that the report of the interdepartmental expert team was ready back in mid-July. Then, experts from eight ministries and from the Agency for Nuclear Regulation proposed that the Cabinet postpone the decommissioning of these generators until the nuclear power station in Belene is built. They recommended that negotiations with the EU be resumed and that the country ask for free assistance, apart from the increased pre-accession support, for construction of the second nuclear station and the sulphur-purifying installations of the thermal power stations.Obviously, Bulgarian rulers are still to begin preparing their new strategy. However, experts have already started asking alarming questions. According to unanimous assessments, the project condition of the two contestable reactors has become even safer than the similar ones in Western Europe. Moreover, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) officially committed (at the end of the most recent inspection in late June) to support Bulgaria in extending their term of operation. The procedures for closing the first two units are not disturbing, either. However, this is not the case with the storage of the utilized nuclear fuel and the processing of radioactive waste. At present,the biggest troublecomes from the fact that, unlike the rest of the countries with nuclear power stations, Bulgaria has not solved the problem with the final storage of the fuel and its waste. The problems are not being discussed and nobody is even trying to collect money for their solution, Georgi Kaschiev, former chairman of the nuclear regulator, said. The 1999 strategy for handling the utilized fuel and nuclear waste does not stipulate that they be buried, it only stipulates that they be temporarily stored. The Act on Safe Utilization of Nuclear Energy, adopted in July 2002, doesn't make any provisions on the matter, either. According to Mr. Kaschiev, a new strategy is extremely needed now, but nobody has tried to develop it so far.According to Bulgarian legislation, utilized fuel is not considered radioactive wastewhich means that it is something valuable, the nuclear expert says. One solution may be its further partial recycling in Russia, as a result of which the plutonium can be used again. However, this alternative is not valid for Bulgaria yet. It cannot be sold, either, as over 200 tons of plutonium have already been accumulated around the globe only due to recycling. Huge amounts of plutonium and enriched uranium have also been released by military programmes.Another basic problem is that Bulgaria has no dump for storage of the glazed recycled fuel. There are no plans for the construction of such a facility, either. At the same time, the much higher costs for transportation and processing of utilized fuel in Russia, compared to the costs for its direct burial, make this scheme totally unreasonable. The scheme favours the Russians most, because their company will be thoroughly used in the recycling process. Moreover, all other East European countries with developed nuclear energy sectors stopped applying this scheme.According to the National Report on Safe Management of Utilized Nuclear Fuel and Radioactive Waste, the IAEA will help for seeking opportunities for regional (international) dumps. But considering the political reality, such hopes seem an illusion. By the way, only the burial of the amount of utilized fuel heaped up in Kozlodoui so far will cost between USD400MN and USD800MN, experts forecast.The lack of a clear strategy for burial of the utilized nuclear fuel and the products from its recycling will inevitably cause serious problems to Bulgaria before its integration into the EU.In full contrast with the developed countries is the general apathyon this issue in Bulgaria. Politicians, law-makers, state officialss and even the society as a whole are indifferent, and the current practice looks like a deliberate theft from the coming generations. It contradicts the principles of sustainable development. Some day the Kozlodoui N-plant will stop operations and huge amounts of money should be paid for the safe storage of the utilized fuel.The ethics, the intelligence, the world practice for solution of this problem, the market logics, as well as Bulgaria's future accession to the EU, necessitate that these expenses should be paid by Kozlodoui and not by the future taxpayers, Georgi Kaschiev said. He calculated that the N-plant should increase its payments to the Radioactive Waste Fund by at least USD100MN per year. How much electricity prices will be hiked as a result is not clear. It's certain, however, that final consumers will be the ones to pay the bills again.

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