The Hungarian Atomic Energy Authority (HAEA) has issued the licence for construction of units 5&6 to the Paks II Nuclear Power Plant Private Limited Company (Paksi atomerőmű – Paks II Ltd), the Hungarian company responsible for the preparatory work of the construction project, the acquisition of the necessary licences, the realisation of the investment, and ultimately operation of the units.

Currently, the Paks NPP, built according to the Soviet design, operates four power units with VVER-440 reactors. The Hungarian Parliament in 2009 approved construction of two new units. 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.

HAEA issued a site licence in 2017 and approval also came from the European Commission that the new plant's effects on competition would be acceptable. Preparatory groundwork began in 2021. The construction licence application was submitted in July 2020, giving HAEA 12 months to make its decision, with a possible three-month extension. That extension was triggered in July 2021, but in October HAEA, which had been undergoing internal restructuring, requested more time. In recent months, Hungary’s Minister of Foreign Economic Relations and Foreign Affairs, Péter Szijjártó, has been pressing for construction to begin as soon as possible.

HAEA said the condition for granting licences “is always the fulfilment of the requirements contained in the Nuclear Safety Codes”. It added: “During the procedure, HAEA stated that the submitted application meets the Hungarian legal requirements from the point of view of nuclear safety.”

HAEA’s experts organised in 15 specialised groups evaluated hundreds of thousands of pages of documentation including: a Preliminary Safety Analysis Report PSAR) of around 37,000 pages; supporting and supplementary documents of 40,000 pages; and background documents requested during the procedure of more than 200,000 pages. HAEA also involved external experts, and several meetings were held with Paks II Ltd. to clarify the facts. Public hearings on the project were held in March,2021. Hungary also requested the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to review the documentation.

During the procedure, the HAEA dealt in detail with, among others, the geological characteristics of the site and the issue of the earthquake hazards. HAEA said it provided the opportunity for extensive professional consultation between Hungarian and Austrian geological and geotechnical experts on issues concerning the site.

The licence, which is valid for 10 years, “includes the official stance and consent of the environmental protection, mining, fire protection and disaster management co-authorities”.

HAEA noted that the construction licence alone does not entitle the licensee to start construction work for which additional specific permitting procedures will be necessary. However, some permits have already been issued including:

  • the test soil stabilisation permit (20 July 2021);
  • the test cut-off wall permit (23 July 2021);
  • permit for soil excavation (8 October 2021);
  • the permit for the cut-off wall construction (26 May 2022);
  • the soil stabilisation permit (10 June 2022); and
  • core catcher manufacturing permit (30 June 2022).

Paks-II Ltd already has permits to connect Paks II to the electricity grid, and in November last year gained approval to manufacture two reactor pressure vessels for the Paks II units. Some 18 buildings are already being built on the site in preparation for construction, as well as a concrete plant and a plant for rebar assembly.

Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó said: "Today, the Paks II NPP project is taking another leap forward. The construction licence confirms that the project complies with the international and Hungarian safety requirements. It is entirely feasible that Hungary will have two new power units by 2030, thus ensuring the stability of energy supply."

Rosatom Director General Alexey Likhachev said: "This is the first licence in recent history obtained by Rosatom in the European Union,” adding that he expected work to begin in October. "We are confident that the Paks II NPP will guarantee Hungary's energy sovereignty for almost a century and bring European countries closer to achieving climate goals." He noted that Rosatom had been co-operating with Hungary for a number of years ~ ”and we plan to expand that co-operation”.

Image: Artist's impression of the Paks II plant (courtesy of Paks II)