The Slovak Supreme Court in Bratislava fully agreed with Greenpeace last month after we complained that the construction of two reactors at the Mochovce nuclear plant should not be done without proper public participation and transparency.
Basically, construction should be halted while the operator Slovenské elektrarne (SE), 66% owned by Italian energy giant ENEL and 34% by the Slovak state, conducts a full Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). Only on that basis could the country's nuclear regulator ÚJD re-issue permissions for changes in the reactor design.
However, ÚJD has already overruled the Supreme Court – for the time being. It says the Mochovce construction should not be stopped for reasons of the public interest, as the Court declared. Instead, ÚJD has ruled that construction should continue in the “public interest”.
Public interest in the eyes of ÚJD is guaranteeing security of electricity supply.
But in a country that has no black-outs, is well embedded in the European electricity grid structure, and imports and exports vast amounts of electricity every year, are the lights in danger of going out in the year or so needed for proper public participation? Of course not!
Unsurprisingly, the cost of construction of Mochovce is – like every other nuclear project we could name – running out of control. It would be better for all concerned if the project were quietly ditched.
On top of that, Mochovce is already more than two years late. The other “public interests” ÚJD mentions are the monetary interests of Slovenské elektrarne and its owners ENEL and the Slovak State. Whose interests is ÚJD defending here - the profits of the nuclear industry or what’s best for the Slovak people?
It’s worth remembering that the reactors being constructed at Mochovce are not shiny new models. Their design is from the 1970s and the project got its construction permission in back in 1986 during the Communist era. It lacks many safety features that are normal for modern reactors, such as vital secondary containment.
In 2008, ÚJD issued the permits for considerable changes that were needed to drag the project out of the Stone Age. ÚJD knew that a national and transboundary EIA was compulsory, but allowed ENEL to get away with a voluntary environmental impact study. Greenpeace warned ÚJD and ENEL repeatedly that this was not in accordance with the law and not in the public interest. But hey, as several ÚJD officials asked us: “Who is Greenpeace anyway?”
Over the last four years, ÚJD tried two things: first it tried to force Greenpeace out of the legal procedures, stating that Greenpeace – representing millions of supporters who prefer clean energy over dinosaur nuclear technology – had no legal interest in the construction of Mochovce.
Second, it tried to convince the courts that the international obligation for public participation in nuclear construction projects as defined in the Aarhus and Espoo Conventions and European Directives were not valid under Slovak law.
ÚJD is supposed to be Slovakia's independent nuclear regulator and, according to EU rules, should be “functionally separate from any other body or organisation concerned with the promotion, or utilisation of nuclear energy, including electricity production”. So why is it doing everything to serve SE and ENEL, while ignoring the citizens it is supposed to protect from nuclear disaster?
Maybe not for much longer. Greenpeace is now preparing steps to have the Supreme Court's decision enforced so construction will be halted and a full round of public participation held before the farce at Mochovce can continue.
We have learned from Fukushima. One of the hard lessons was that a nuclear regulator who puts the interests of the operators ahead of those of the public is dangerous and not to be trusted.
(Image of the Mochovce Nuclear Power Plant © Tomas Halasz / Greenpeace)