Welcome to Reactor of the Week, Nuclear Reaction’s profiling of the nuclear reactors and power plants whose reputations have made the nuclear industry the global laughing stock it is today.
As nuclear reactors are prone to do, the Belene Nuclear Power Plant in Bulgaria has suffered problems before it’s even in operation (which isn’t due to happen until 2015). Construction began in 1981 but was abandoned, 40 per cent complete, in 1990 after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
In 2002 the Bulgarian government announced it was restarting construction at Belene after having had to close four reactors at Kozloduy under the terms and conditions of the country’s entry to the European Union (the reactors had structural defects and it was decided they could not be refurbished at a reasonable cost).
However, The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for the Belene site produced at the time did ‘not contain adequate information on the seismic conditions, nor does it address beyond design basis accidents or give details of the potential impacts of decommissioning’.
The three important elements of nuclear power station construction were not adequately addressed – whether the site is geologically stable, what happens in the event of an accident, and what happens to the reactors at the end of their life. It’s like Star Wars without Darth Vader, Luke Skywalker and Han Solo. If you don’t have them, what have you got?
To make matters worse, the preparation of the EIA was a farce, full of lies, misinformation and deception. False and inadequate information was given during public hearings called to discuss the building of the plant. The number of jobs it was claimed the construction would create in the local area was vastly inflated. Concerned locals were prevented from speaking at hearings or their speaking time was restricted. People in surrounding villages were not even informed about the hearings.
Support for the project from the public and NGOs were declared where it didn’t exist. After hearings were called in Romania (Belene sits close to Bulgaria’s border with Romania), important documentation was not made available in Romanian. Despite the EIA running to 1,500 pages, only a month was given for people to read it and feed back. There have also been allegations of corruption in the process. The state-owned electricity generator NEK signed a $7.8 million contract with Parsons E&C Europe for a EIA - state firm Energoproekt had already done the job for a mere $150,000. If the people in and around Belene have nothing to fear from having a nuclear installation, why was the public consultation conducted in such a way?
Then there’s the money involved. At a cost to the Bulgarian people of $5.8 billion, the project will be Bulgaria’s most expensive public project in the country’s post-Communist era. Despite the European Commission giving their approval of the financial arrangements, BNP Paribas, the project’s ‘lead arranging and structuring bank’ has refused to put in any of its own money – a sign that major financial institutions are being scared off by the huge financial outlays nuclear build demands. Deutsche Bank and UniCredit have also bailed out.
It may now fall to Vladimir Putin to put up the cash after the Russian leader offered to cover some of the reactors’ costs. The project is being built by a consortium featuring Russia’s Atomstroyexport (majority owner, Gazprom) and serial leakers Areva. Bulgaria already relies on Russia for its entire uranium supply and reprocessing. So much for nuclear’s promise of ‘energy security’.
A corrupt, misleading consultation process, uncertain financing, and the placing of Bulgaria’s nuclear industry in the hands of another country, Belene truly is a nuclear poster child.