The decommissioning of eight Soviet-built nuclear reactor units in Bulgaria, Lithuania and Slovakia faces a number of “critical” challenges, with financing gaps and delays to key infrastructure projects, according to a 20 September report by the European Court of Auditors (ECA). Four units at Bulgaria’s Kozloduy NPP, two at Lithunia’s Ignalina NPP, and units at Slovakia’s Bohunice NPP were shut down under European pressure as a condition for accession to the European Union (EU) in the early 2000s.

Units 1 and 2 at Kozloduy were shut down in 2002 and units 3 and 4 in 2006. Slovakia shut down Bohunice-1 in 2006 and Bohunice-2 in 2009. All six were of the Soviet-designed VVER-440 V-230 reactors. Units 1 and 2 at Ignalina are Soviet-designed RBMK-1500 units, which were shut down in 2004 and 2009.

To lessen the financial and economic burdens of these closures, the EU agreed to provide financial support starting in 1999.

The ECA said that by 2020 the EU funding programme will have totalled €3.8bn ($4.2bn) with Lithuania receiving the biggest share, €1.8bn, or 48% of the total. The estimated total cost of decommissioning will be at least €5.7bn, and this could double when the cost of final disposal of high-level waste is included. Lithuania is estimated to exceed its decommissioning financing by €1.6bn, Bulgaria by €23m and Slovakia by €92m. However, the European Commission has said it does not foresee any further extension of financial EU support after 2020, and there are no clear guidelines on cofinancing requirements.

The report said the dedicated funding programmes “have not created the right incentives for timely and cost-effective decommissioning”. Key infrastructure projects, such as waste management facilities, have experienced delays since 2011 and “critical challenges” related to working in the controlled areas, including the reactor buildings, the ECA said.

The report recommends improvements to local project management practices, recognition of the role of national funding, and updating the conditions for co-funding after 2020 with the aim of strengthening decommissioning incentives.  The chief author of the report, Phil Wynn Owen, said, “I am concerned that key decommissioning projects have suffered delays, that financing gaps remain, and that insufficient progress is being made towards final disposal of high-level waste.”

The assumption in the report is such first-generation Soviet reactors are inherently of unsafe or outdated technology, compared with Western models. However, the four units in Bulgaria had been extensively upgraded and had been declared satisfactory by several international expert panels.