MOSCOW – Following the green light from the European Commission after a long in-depth investigation, Hungary is moving fast to construct a new nuclear power plant with Russia that will maintain the nuclear capacity after the country’s old reactors are shut down, Hungary’s state secretary for the Paks NPP Attila Aszódi told New Europe.
“There was a long process of the European Commission, a long investigation. The longest one was dedicated to the state aid issue. It was a 16-month-long in-depth investigation of possible state aid but in March the Commission finally closed this investigation and gave the green light for the project,” Aszódi said in an interview on the sidelines of the Atomexpo forum in Moscow, adding that from the European point of view Hungary closed six different issues. “Everything is settled now. We can really proceed from the point of view of the European aspects, he added.
Turning to licensing in Hungary, Aszódi said during the investigation of the Commission, Hungary was able to work on some licensing questions. “We have already the environmental license and also the site license. Altogether nearly 300 licenses have been obtained in the last two years. The next major licensing step will be the construction license application so together with the main contractor and with the engineering teams, Paks II the licensee has to put together the construction license application and submit to the competent authority for approval,” Aszódi said, adding that during the Commission’s in-depth investigation, “there was a standstill. It was not possible to work on the construction license application. So we have to see how can we manage this challenge”.
The Hungarian official reminded that the engineering work is the responsibility of ASE Group, an engineering company and member of Russia’s state nuclear corporation Rosatom, and ASE’s subcontractors, who will prepare the licensing documentation, the basic design and the preliminary safety analysis report, Aszódi said, noting, however, Paks II has to review this documentation and finally the nuclear licensee, Paks 2, will submit this documentation to the competent authority.
Hungary’s state secretary for the Paks NPP said the goal is to have the two new units operational by 2026. “You know, we have now a new government structure in the project. Beginning of May, the government decided to appoint a new minister without portfolio. His only job is to realise the Paks II project. His name is Minister János Süli,” Aszódi said. “He is reviewing the schedule, whether any changes is needed or no. We will see the result. We need to discuss this with the Russian part as well,” he added.
Asked if at some point, Paks I and Paks II would be operational at the same time, Aszódi said the current four units on the site will be shut down between 2032-37. “So if we have the two new units operational by 2025-26, it will mean that there will be only six years, or a bit less in which period there will be six units operational on the site. We investigated this period. From the electricity grid point of view this is not a big deal because we want to strengthen the electricity grid around the power plant anyhow,” the Hungarian official told New Europe.
Aszódi explained that a new substation is necessary to connect the new units to the grid. “They will be connected to the old Paks substation as well so the improvement of the grid is necessary anyhow and the cooling question has been analysed in detail and we see that the Danube River has enough capacity to serve as a cooling medium for the new units as well. So these few years of parallel operation is not a critical issue,” he said.
Asked about Hungary’s energy security, a goal of the European Commission that has been promoted across EU member states, and the how can Paks II play a role in Hungary’s energy mix, according to Aszódi, “the electricity generation mix, nearly 40% is the share of Paks I, more than 30% is import and the remaining part is covered by lignite, gas and renewables”.
He stressed that the main purpose of Paks 2 is the maintenance of the nuclear capacity. “So after the shutdown of the old reactors we will have in fact the same 40% like today and this why we call it capacity maintenance project. Besides the 40%, there will be huge room for other sources. There is definitely a challenging situation with the import,” he said.
Aszódi anticipates changes in structure in line with the COP21 target and climate change mitigation. “I think these really those old coal-fired plants will be shut down, most of them and there will be need for additional capacities in the future. But once again the main reason for the Paks II project is to replace the old units. Without this capacity maintenance, the situation in Hungary, or in Central Europe would be even more complicated,” he said.
Asked if Paks II increases reliance on Russia, Aszódi said, smiling, “No, actually it decreases, it decreases”.
The Hungarian official explained that nuclear fuel could be stored quite easily for years. “We have actually legal obligation in Hungary that the nuclear facilities have to have at least two years fuel reserve. It will be the same for the new units. So having two year reserve in fresh fuel is very advantageous situation with nuclear. We will buy the fuel from Russia at the beginning. Later on could be diversification of the fuel supply,” Aszódi said, stressing that the key element is that nuclear fuel can be stored and in fact the electricity energy is produced inside Hungary. “So it’s much better than importing natural gas. Without nuclear we would need to rely much more on natural gas which is imported by pipelines. You know natural gas cannot be stored for two years. You can store for several months but not two years. So without nuclear the dependence of Hungary would be much, much higher. And once again we have a lot of electricity import, 30%, two years before it was 32%. So this is the third largest share of import in Europe. So we are in a very tricky situation,” he said.
Turning to CO2 emissions, Aszódi said, “The electricity system in Hungary is between these countries which have the lowest carbon footprint.” “We’re committed,” he concluded.