Framatome has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Hungary’s Ministry of Energy for the development of a strategic relationship in the nuclear field. The MOU seeks to facilitate the extension of the cooperation between Framatome and Hungary in various domains of interest in nuclear such as education and competencies, R&D, the implementation of new technologies, fuel supply and related nuclear materials, as well as long-term operation.

Framatome CEO Bernard Fontana expressed strong support for Hungary’s nuclear industry and energy policy and said the agreement “further bears witness to the trust our customers have placed in our robust and reliable expertise and integrated supply chain over the years”. He added: “This MOU confirms our commitment to contribute to the diversification and security of fuel supply for the safe and reliable operation of the existing nuclear fleet and for preparing for the next generation of nuclear energy.”

Framatome noted the longstanding relationship and cooperation with Hungary in nuclear operation and maintenance, as well as services to the Hungarian NPP. Framatome is present in Hungary through its subsidiary Framatome Kft, which provides direct support to Hungarian customers.

Hungary’s Paks NPP comprises four Soviet-built VVER-440 reactors built between 1982 and 1987. Their 30-year operating period was extended by 20 years between 2012 and 2017. The plant accounts for about half of electricity generation in Hungary.

The Paks II project was launched in 2014 by an inter-governmental agreement between Hungary and Russia for two VVER-1200 reactors (units 5&6) to be supplied by Rosatom. The contract was supported by a Russian state loan to finance the majority of the project. Despite opposition from some European Union (EU) states, the European Commission's has approved investment aid from Russia.

The Hungarian Atomic Energy Authority issued the licence for the units in August 2022. The following December, parliament approved the extension of the life of the four existing VVER-440 power units at the Paks NPP for another 20 years. The current life of the station's nuclear reactors would have ended in 2032-2037, and now it is assumed that they will work until at least 2052-2057.

Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs & Trade Péter Szijjártó recently confirmed that preparatory groundwork was already underway for the construction of Paks-II.

Framatome is particpating in the Paks-II project and was contracted to provide instrumental and control (I&C) equipment for the two units in a consortium with Germany’s Siemens. However, the involvement of Siemens became uncertain earlier this year due to delays in obtaining the relevant licences from the German Authorities. In March, Hungary’s Minister of Foreign Affairs & Foreign Economic Relations, Peter Szijjártó said it Germany failed to give its permission, there were two options. Either Russia would supply the systems, “or we can arrange with the French that their Framatome company take over leadership of the consortium, so the French contribution to this project will increase”.

Referring to the latest MOU with Framatome, Hungary’s Energy Minister Csaba Lantos said: “Without nuclear power plants, there is no security of supply, external exposures cannot be reduced, and climate protection commitments cannot be met.” He added: “At EU level, Hungary is one of the most committed supporters of the cooperation of the member states promoting the use of nuclear energy. France is our permanent ally in this fight, but Framatome is also a key player in European energy efficiency and competitiveness efforts. By strengthening our partnership, we are opening a new era in an ever-expanding and mutually fruitful cooperation.”

Framatome noted that, “at the initiative and with the cooperation of European VVER licensees”, Framatome is looking for a solution to eliminate difficulties in the supply of critical services and to reduce risks and import exposure.

“For several years now, Framatome has been developing an industrial solution to support the short- and mid-term needs of VVER nuclear operators, for both VVER-1000 and VVER 440 reactors,” noted Lionel Gaiffe, senior executive vice president of the Fuel Business Unit at Framatome. “In the short-term, Framatome will provide the proven and incumbent design and in the mid-term, Framatome is the only fuel supplier able to guarantee a sovereign European solution, with a fully-European design, manufacturing and components supply chain, thanks to our longstanding, proven expertise and track records.”

There has been considerable press speculation that as a result of possible European sanctions on Russia’s nuclear industry, the Paks II project could be taken over by France. However, Hungarian officials have been adamant that Hungary will not allow the EU to impose sanctions on the Russian nuclear energy industry. Earlier this year Szijjártó said Budapest was facing tremendous pressure over the issue, but that this would change nothing. “Here and now, I would like to state again that this will definitely not happen. Hungary will not [agree] to nuclear [industry] sanctions of any kind, even minimal ones.”

He reaffirmed this position, speaking at the 8th Central and Eastern Europe Nuclear Industry Congress being held in Prague. He noted that, even in times of conflict, rational thinking must be maintained. Europe had been hit by the gravest economic and security challenges of the past decades, with the energy crisis posing a major problem, he said. The continent has not given appropriate answers to the war in Ukraine, the EU’s policy of sanctions has failed, energy resources have diminished while energy prices have soared which all have led to Europe losing competitiveness, he said, adding that “without nuclear energy, the continent would be unable to regain its competitiveness”.

He said nuclear energy was important in achieving environmental protection goals and praised the establishment of a pro-nuclear alliance led by France which already has 16 European member states, pledging to support for its plan to develop an integrated European nuclear industry reaching 150 GW of nuclear power capacity in the EU by 2050.

However, he added that Hungary would reject any “attempt to approve sanctions on the nuclear industry” as this would seriously hurt the country’s national security and economic interests. On Paks, Szijjártó said the government’s aim with its expansion was for the country to achieve “climate neutrality” by 2050. He noted that the new units to be built as part of the international project would have a total capacity of 2,400 MWe and avoid the emission of 17m tonnes of carbon dioxide a year.

Szijjártó said the expansion of the nuclear project was progressing well with all permits obtained in the EU. He pointed out “attempts were made regularly by certain players to stymie the projects”, stressing that for Hungary “the security of energy supply is a matter of sovereignty”. He said: “We view attacks on the project as attempts to violate our right to make sovereign decisions about our national energy mix.”

Image: Bernard Fontana, CEO of Framatome, and Hungarian Energy Minister Csaba Lantos, at the MOU signing ceremony (courtesy of Framatome)