Nuclear in Eastern Europe: a lively bright spot?

4 April 2007

The outlook for nuclear power within the European Union (EU) has undergone an important change with the accession of new countries with a strong interest in nuclear. Of the ten countries which joined in 2004, five (Czech Republic, Hungary, Lithuania, Slovakia and Slovenia) have operating reactors. Both Bulgaria and Romania, which joined in January 2007, also have nuclear reactors. In some cases, shutting existing older Soviet-era reactors was a condition of EU entry, but these countries retain a strong interest in nuclear and several have firm plans for new reactors in the future.

To some extent, the influence of these new members within the EU is beginning to act as a useful counterbalance to anti-nuclear forces in the ‘old’ members in Western Europe, particularly centred in Austria, Denmark and the Republic of Ireland. Indeed, the outlook for nuclear in Eastern Europe looks much better than further west, where Belgium, Germany and Sweden have phaseout policies and new build possibilities currently seem limited to Finland, France and perhaps also the United Kingdom.

In Bulgaria, six VVER reactors were built at the Kozloduy site, but the four VVER-440s have been closed as a condition of EU accession, leaving only the two larger VVER-1000 units in operation. A second site was originally chosen near Belene, also near the Danube border with Romania, with a view to building up to six large units. Construction of the first VVER-1000 unit started there in 1987, but was aborted in 1991 due to lack of funds. The government has now revived the Belene project and early in 2005, the government approved the construction of Belene as a 2000MWe plant. Two consortia submitted bids to build the plant and in October 2006, the local utility NEK chose Atomstroyexport (ASE) over a Skoda-led consortium. Russia’s ASE leads a consortium including Areva NP and Bulgarian enterprises in the €4.0 billion project. The new units will be similar to those being built by ASE in China and India and the first is expected to come online in 2013. NEK will carry 51% of the project and will seek partners such as Enel, CEZ or Gazprom from Italy, Czech Republic and Russia, respectively.

In the Czech Republic, construction of the Dukovany plant commenced in 1978, with four VVER-440 type V-213 reactors designed by Russian organisations and built by Skoda. These came into commercial operation 1985-87. In 1982 work started on the Temelin plant, with two VVER-1000 reactors. Construction was delayed and when it resumed in the mid 1990s, Westinghouse instrumentation and control (I&C) systems were incorporated. The reactors started up in 2000 and 2002, with the upgrading having been financed by CEZ with a loan from the World Bank. Both units have had significant ongoing technical problems with fuel and with turbines since they were commissioned. A further two units were originally envisaged on the site and the 2004 state energy policy envisages building two or more large reactors, probably at Temelin. Plans announced in June 2006 envisage one large unit at Temelin after 2020, with a second to follow soon thereafter.

In Romania, a five-unit nuclear power plant was planned at Cernavoda on the Danube River in the late 1970s. After considering carefully both Russian VVER-440 and Canadian Candu technology it was decided to adopt the latter. Cernavoda was based on technology transfer from Canada (AECL), Italy and the USA, with Candu-6 heavy water reactors. Construction of the first unit started in 1980, and of units 2-5 in 1982. In 1991 work on the latter four was suspended in order to focus on unit 1, responsibility for which was handed to an AECL-Ansaldo (Canadian-Italian) consortium. Unit 1 was connected to the grid in mid 1996 and entered commercial operation in December 1996. In 2000, the government decided that completion of Cernavoda 2 was a high priority and supplied some €60 million towards it. It was seen as the least-cost means of providing extra generating capacity for the country. Further finance was raised in 2002-03, with a €382.5 million package announced by the government, including €218 million from Canada. In addition, a €223.5 million Euratom loan was approved by the European Commission for completion of unit 2, including upgrades.

Unit 2, being built by the AECL-Ansaldo-SNN management team, is due to come into commercial operation later this year. Efforts are also underway to resume work on unit 3, and SNN commissioned a feasibility study from Ansaldo, AECL and KHNP (South Korea) in 2003. It has now been decided to proceed with creating a joint venture project to complete both units in a €2.2 billion project. A tentative schedule is for commissioning unit 3 in 2013 and unit 4 in 2014.


The contrast between this wealth of activity in Eastern Europe and the lack of positive nuclear plans further west is indeed striking

As a precondition for Slovak entry into the EU in 2004, the government committed to closing units 1 and 2 at Bohunice V1 due to perceived safety deficiencies in that early model reactor. The original date specified for closing them down was 2000, though subsequently 2006 and 2008 were agreed in relation to EU accession. The latter dates were set despite their recent major refurbishment, including replacement of the emergency core cooling systems and modernising the control systems. An upgrade programme on Bohunice V2-1 and V2-2 is now underway to improve seismic resistance, cooling systems, and I&C systems with a view to extending operational life to 40 years (2025). Areva NP is replacing the I&C systems progressively to 2008.

In 1981 construction of the four-unit Mochovce nuclear power plant was commenced by Skoda, using VVER-440 V-213 reactor units, but work on units 3 & 4 was halted in 1994. Units 1 & 2 have been significantly upgraded and the I&C systems replaced with assistance from Western companies. In October 2004 the government approved Italian Enel’s bid to acquire 66% of the utility Slovenske Elektrarne (SE) as part of its privatisation process. Enel’s subsequent investment plan approved in 2005 involved a €1.88 billion investment to increase generating capacity and incorporating a plan to complete Mochovce units 3 & 4 – together totalling 942MWe gross capacity – by 2011-12. In January 2006 the government approved a new energy strategy incorporating these plans, with capacity uprates of 44MWe at Mochovce 1 & 2 in 2007 and a further 18MWe by 2012, and a 120MWe uprate of Bohunice 3 & 4 by 2010. In February 2007, SE announced that it would proceed with Mochovce 3 & 4 construction later in the year, and that Enel had agreed to invest €1.8 billion on this with a view to operation in 2012-13. SE has already invested €576 million in the two units.

In Hungary, the four Paks VVER-440 units provide about 35% of the country’s electricity but there are currently no additional reactors planned. In Slovenia, the only reactor is a 676MWe Westinghouse-origin PWR, which provides over 40% of the small country’s electricity. As in Hungary, there has been discussions about an additional nuclear unit, with recognition of the importance of nuclear power to both countries, but the planning horizon for these is likely to be beyond 2020.

A more interesting case is that of Poland, which is a large country where some 97% of the electricity is from burning coal. The Polish cabinet decided early in 2005 that for energy diversification and to reduce CO2 and sulfur emissions, the country should move immediately to introduce nuclear power, with an initial plant operating soon after 2020. Poland had four VVER-440 V-213 Russian units under construction in the 1980s at Zarnowiec, but these were cancelled in 1990 and the components sold. In July 2006 Lithuania invited Poland to join with Estonia and Latvia in building a new large reactor in Lithuania, to replace the Ignalina units being shut down as a condition of EU entry. Polish participation would justify a larger and more economical unit such as a 1600MWe EPR. A 2006 feasibility study, undertaken on behalf of the three Baltic states, showed that a new plant costing €2.5-4.0 billion would be economically attractive and could be online in 2015.

The contrast between this wealth of activity in Eastern Europe and the lack of positive nuclear plans further west is indeed striking. It has several explanations. Certainly, these countries are already benefiting economically from EU membership and electricity demand is rising rapidly. In itself, this brings with it consideration of energy policy and the available generation alternatives. Having just broken free of economic dependence on Russia, none wants to imperil energy independence by relying upon Russian oil and gas, nor import large quantities of power from neighbouring countries. The environment is also an important consideration, leading to coal being widely rejected as a serious option and the greenhouse gas avoidance merits of nuclear recognised. Renewable energy sources are advancing but cannot expect to provide the large quantities of power that these countries require, at least yet. The economic benefits of nuclear are also appreciated as the countries are proud of the operating performance of their older reactors. Indeed, they feel that there was never any real need for any of them to be shut down on safety grounds for EU accession, given the magnitude of safety upgrades undertaken. Finally, although public acceptance of nuclear varies by country, in general the overall climate appears to be much more favourable in Eastern Europe, with no substantial public opposition expected with the plans for new reactors. The approach to nuclear seems essentially pragmatic rather than ideological.

The contrast between this wealth of activity in Eastern Europe and the lack of positive nuclear plans further west is indeed striking Quote1 Steve Kidd is head of Strategy & Research at the World Nuclear Association Steve Kidd Author Info:

Steve Kidd is Head of Strategy and Research at the World Nuclear Association, where he has worked since 1995 (when it was the Uranium Institute). Any views expressed are not necessarily those of the World Nuclear Association and/or its members

Related Articles
China selects AP1000 technology
China launches nuclear construction
Chinese contract mooted for Areva
AP1000 units switch site
China to build first inland nuclear

Privacy Policy
We have updated our privacy policy. In the latest update it explains what cookies are and how we use them on our site. To learn more about cookies and their benefits, please view our privacy policy. Please be aware that parts of this site will not function correctly if you disable cookies. By continuing to use this site, you consent to our use of cookies in accordance with our privacy policy unless you have disabled them.