Nuclear lobbyist all around the world keep on feeding us the most ridiculous lies in order to promote their dirty technology and dying industry. Anyone conscious can only laugh bitterly when they claim that nuclear energy is clean, cheap and safe.
In Slovakia, a strongly pro-nuclear (and - no wonder - anti-renewables) country, the lobby supported by the current government keeps going on about home-grown experts, whose knowledge can (one day) be exported to other countries. Our Prime Minister Fico likes to offer their help all around the world, whether it’s to Italy or pretty much anybody he meets at high level meetings.
I always wondered what kind of experts they kept talking about, as there is not that much to be proud of even though nuclear power has a long history in this region. The first reactor’s construction began in 1958 and several accidents happened in the 70s when, after a core meltdown in 1977, the first Slovak reactor had to be shut down. The consequences of this accident are still threatening the surrounding environment and public health. As if that wasn’t enough, there was another accident in 1999, when our experts were trying to take the fuel out of the broken reactor. A decommissioning process has only reached a first milestone (out of five), while already costing some 1,218 million euros. The estimated completion date of the decommissioning process is 2033.
I can´t help but wondering how many accidents have to happen in one country for the public and decision makers to stop blindly supporting this madness?
Coming back to the experts issue, since last year an Environmental Impact Assessment process has been taking place for two new reactors at the Slovakia’s Mochovce nuclear power plant. This information wouldn’t be that interesting if it wasn´t for the fact that Greenpeace sued the investor – Slovenské elektrárne a.s. (owned by Italy’s ENEL) – for their unwillingness to assess the environmental impact of the plant as there is an existing building permission from 1986. Are you wondering how is this possible? Everything is possible in Slovakia if you’re on the right side of the barricade (the pro-nuclear side). The Mochovce reactors are of an old Russian design from the end of 70s (VVER 440/213). The Communist plan was to build four of them. However, because of a lack of resources only two were finished. Construction of the 3rd and 4th reactors was started but they have been sitting uncompleted for decades. Now there are claims that this outdated technology is comparable to the so called ‘third generation’ of reactors (like AREVA’s EPR being built in Finland and France).
At the end of the EIA process, the Ministry of Environment has to appoint an expert (either an individual, group of individuals or a company) who assesses the project itself as well as the EIA report. In Mochovce 3 and 4’s cases it happened to be a company called DECOM. This company is, however, owned by VÚJE, one of companies that has already signed contracts for Mochovce 3 and 4’s completion. No wonder Greenpeace sued the Ministry of Environment for making a grave mistake in the process of selecting a professionally competent entity for the Environmental Impact Assessment and in failing to guarantee transparency and objectivity. In so doing the government put in jeopardy the safety of the project and thereby the environment and people in Slovakia and beyond.
On top of this, a director of DECOM sits on the board of trustees of the National Nuclear Fund, which disposes of spent nuclear fuel and radioactive waste. The Fund is cash-strapped and could have problems disposing of Mochovce's radioactive waste.
A few days after our court complaint, a journalist from daily Slovak newspaper SME wrote an article about the case and tried to find out why the Ministry appointed this company for this job. It took even us by surprise that out of the 22 entities listed by the Ministry as qualified to assess nuclear projects, two are the companies DECOM and VÚJE, that Greenpeace went to court over. The rest are individuals working either for them or other nuclear companies that have a direct financial interest in the nuclear project. The only individual, who is currently not connected to any of companies, worked for them in the past and has refused to take part in its assessment.
I will leave you to judge how safe the Slovak reactors can be when their safety is being assessed by entities that have direct interest in them being built. Our position is clear: the nuclear industry is as dirty as nuclear energy itself. Unfortunately, this doesn’t apply just to existing reactors and those that are already being built - but also to all the future ones - as Slovakia has ambitions to build at least one new large reactor by 2020.
(This post is by Andrea Zlatnanska, climate and energy campaigner for Greenpeace Slovakia)