The possibility of using nuclear fuel from suppliers other than Russia’s TVEL at the Paks NPP has been legally enshrined in Hungary’s legislation. Members of the national parliament supported an amendment to the nuclear energy strategy proposed by the government. State Secretary at the Ministry of Energy Attila Steiner noted that Paks, Hungary’s only NPP currently uses nuclear fuel supplied by Rosatom enterprises.

However, to ensure the safety and reliability of its operation in the long term, and also taking into account the ongoing attempts by the European Union to impose sanctions against Rosatom, the government decided to provide options for replacing Russian fuel, if necessary, he explained. For this purpose, national legislation was supplemented with a provision according to which “a nuclear power plant may use new, alternative fuel from another manufacturer, in particular during the period of extending its operating life.”

The Hungarian government intends to extend the life of the Paks nuclear power plant. The current life of the four power VVER-440 units of the station was supposed to end in 2032-2037, but they are now expected to operate at least until 2052-2057. At the same time, the construction of the second stage of the NPP (Paks-II) is underway with two VVER-1200 units being built by Rosatom.

Until 2022, fuel assemblies were delivered to Paks from Russia by rail through the territory of Ukraine, but after the outbreak of armed conflict, the route had to be changed. Now the cargo is transported by ship across the Black Sea under the protection of warships to the Bulgarian port of Varna, where it is loaded onto a train, and then transported through Bulgaria and Romania to Hungary. As a rule, NPPs maintain a fuel reserve for at least two years in advance.

There is currently no alternative to Russian fuel for the four VVER-440 reactors, and the Hungarian government has repeatedly stated that it does not intend to abandon it as long as it can be supplied reliably. Speaking at the meeting, which was broadcast on the parliament website, Steiner noted that only Rosatom enterprises can now produce fuel assemblies for those units, so Hungary is interested in ensuring that they are not subject to sanctions. At the same time, he confirmed that, in accordance with the general policy of the European Union, Hungary will strive to diversify its energy supplies including nuclear energy.

In line with this policy, the Hungarian Ministry of Energy in September signed a Memorandum of Cooperation on the operation and supply of NPP fuel with French corporation Framatome. France, which has the largest number of nuclear reactors in Europe, produces its own fuel for them, importing uranium from Australia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and other countries.

In recent years, the search for alternative fuels for Russian reactors in the European Union and Ukraine is mainly being carried out by the US-based Westinghouse, mainly under European projects such as APIS – “Accelerated Programme for Reliable Fuel Supply for VVER Reactors”. In July, a subsidiary of the Hungarian state energy company MVM, which operates Paks, joined the project.

Image: Hungary's Paks nuclear power plant