Addressing Atomexpo 2024 in Sochi, southern Russia, Hungary’s Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó called for nuclear energy to remain a field of international cooperation, and expressed regret that the field was riddled with ideological debates. “As long as infrastructure determines energy cooperation, ideology should have nothing to do with [it],” he said. He added that, whereas nuclear energy had been “a victim of ideology” recently, Europe had “overcome” discrimination, “thanks mostly to the fact that France is a pro-nuclear country”. He added: “We were able to win our debates in Europe and make it recognised that generating electricity in a nuclear way is sustainable, safe and cheap.”

He was speaking after a meeting with Rosatom Director General Alexei Likhachev to review the status of the Paks II construction project. 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 Hungarian Atomic Energy Authority issued the licence for the units in August 2022. The following December, the Hungarian parliament approved the extension of the life of the at the Paks NPP for another 20 years. Paks currently comprises four VVER-440 power units, which provide half of all generated and one third of the consumed electricity in Hungary.

Szijjártó said the expansion of Paks would secure Hungary’s electricity supply for decades to come, adding that the Paks plant would supply 70% of the country’s demand and provide “a great degree of independence from the occasionally insane changes in the international energy market as well as from skyrocketing prices”. Szijjártó said works on the project were nearing another “milestone” as one of the melt traps, a key safety element in nuclear plants, has been completed and is expected to be shipped to Hungary in the second quarter of the year after the necessary tests. He welcomed that soil consolidation by German, American and other subcontractors was under way at the site. “Those milestones… forecast that we can pour the first concrete by the end of the year and that the two new reactor blocks can start operations early in the next decade,” he added.

Szijjártó emphasised that severing nuclear cooperation between Europe and Russia “would be another dent in the continent’s competitiveness”, putting the EU’s green goals at risk. Criticism of Hungary on the issue was “hypocritical” as Rosatom was working with sub-contractors from the US, Germany, France, Switzerland, Austria and Sweden at the Paks site. “This means… on the corporate level at least, decision-makers have not lost their common sense yet,” He added that Hungary would not adopt EU sanctions against the Russian nuclear sector, as doing so would harm Hungary’s interests. Banning nuclear cooperation would also be “strange”, as Russia was also the largest uranium supplier to the US last year, exporting ore worth some $1bn in 2023. “I do hope that in the future rationality and common sense will prevail… and the nuclear industry will be exempt from ideological debates. I hope that we will only concentrate on professional and scientific issues.”

Image: Hungary’s Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó has called for nuclear energy to remain a field of international cooperation (courtesy of FB/Péter Szijjártó)