Past, present and future - Don't close Kozloduy

3 September 2002

As the shutdown date for Kozloduy 1 and 2 approaches, nuclear engineering consultant Iordan Iordanov makes a case for preserving the units.

As the deadline for the shutdown of Kozloduy 1 and 2 approaches, and the terms for decommissioning units 3 and 4 are negotiated, we stand at an impasse. Taking the plant's four smaller units out of operation in line with the expectations of the European Commission (EC) will disturb Bulgaria's power balance so that we have to import electricity. Even if the level of production was preserved, the cost of producing electricity in Bulgaria would rise so as to be uncompetitive in the international market.

If we do not fulfil our commitments to the EC, all external financing for the modernisation of units 5 and 6 will cease, along with all the structure-oriented financing for other projects in Bulgaria.

Undoubtedly, our international commitments must be observed, and we will stop the first two reactors before the beginning of 2003. But this does not mean that we have to put them out of action permanently - the units have still not exhausted their design potential.

We should take units 1 and 2 out of operation as the first stage towards setting them in a condition that complies with safe operation, if possible. This would not be necessary with units 3 and 4, because they have already been modernised to comply with safety requirements.

A strategic retreat

External pressure to close the reactors is based on economic interests expressed by political means. Politicians use technical arguments selectively and to our disadvantage. Units 1 and 2 belong to the old generation of Russian VVER-440/V-230 reactors that, together with RBMK reactors, are not subject to modernisation - according to the 1992 G-7 meeting.

But since the Chernobyl accident in 1986, the term "Russian" has come to mean "hazardous" when it describes a nuclear reactor. Outside the industry, nobody ever mentions the fundamental differences between the Chernobyl type of reactor and that of the small reactors at Kozloduy.

It is true that the units have their deficiencies. The most significant is their lack of a large sealed cover, which would prevent the leak of radioactive emissions into the atmosphere if there is a rupture in the main circulations of the first circuit. However, this problem could be eliminated, as is the case in units 3 and 4 (with a jet vortex condenser).

After the shutdown of the first two reactors, we could find a loophole for further exploitation. The three years following the shutdown of units 1 and 2 - during which fuel would stay in the reactor and staff would remain available - could be spent finding a way to extend their operating licence.

Freedom of choice?

The share of nuclear power in the European Union is high, and this will not be replaced by conventional fossil-fuelled production because of the harmful emissions it creates. The use of renewable energy sources for covering basic loads remains a dream.

As far as the country is concerned, we still have nothing to replace the capacity of the small power units at Kozloduy, and the funds available for building additional capacity are insufficient. If we stop all four units, the price of electricity in Bulgaria will increase due to the cost of their decommissioning and the cost of modernising units 5 and 6. Bulgaria would become a dependent and poor country, because power production is the only industry that has survived unscathed by years of instability.

Some say that Bulgaria has excess power capacity in relation to its needs, and that it uses electricity ineffectively, so by closing the small units at Kozloduy we could cover our needs by reducing losses. But who has the authority to say that our energy market should be reduced to the minimum level necessary for internal consumption? This is a question of internal policy and legislation. There is no international organisation that can dictate whether a power sector should be developed in a given country. Why shouldn't we continue to export electricity, and perhaps even expand our market?

Let us mobilise our efforts to eliminate the technical deficiencies and make the arguments work in our favour. This will enable our politicians to defend a position of nuclear responsibility concerning the operation of the small power units of Kozloduy.

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