A tractor plows a field near the steaming cooling towers of Slovakia's oldest nuclear power plant, Jaslovske Bohunice. The plant was built by a Soviet designer and was upgrated with Western technology. Joe Klamar/AFP/Newscom/File
Every member country of the European Union has to conduct on its nuclear reactors so-called stress tests against potential severe accidents, earthquakes, floods and other extreme events.
Both Slovak and Czech Republic national nuclear regulators reported that nuclear power plants in these two Central European countries completed the EU-mandated stress tests. On 4 January, Slovak Nuclear Supervisory Office released a report from the stress tests and announced that their final results were sent to Brussels.
The countries of the Central European region can still recall the eminent environmental threats and destruction force caused by explosion in Ukrainian Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Therefore, safety and risk-prevention have always been the top priorities for the Visegrad group countries.
Despite of that, in Slovakia the nuclear power plants are often subject of criticism from various domestic and international actors. The latest debate caused the publication of the final stress tests report of the Slovak Nuclear Supervisory Office.
While Greenpeace Slovakia considers to the report to be “nothing but a farce” attempting to calm down safety concerns of public, the experts from the energy web-portal (energia.sk) claim that the final report from the stress tests does not state that the security of the nuclear power plants is perfect.
The final report summarizes the threats and following the steps and actions that need to be taken after particular natural disasters. Taking into account the security measures of particular nuclear power plant and the nature of disaster, it computes the time given to the experts to stabilize the plant. Furthermore, the Nuclear Regulatory Authority said it had taken further safety steps such as adding new emergency diesel generators and purchasing manual, portable pumps in case of flooding.
Slovakia with its four nuclear reactors is the second most nuclear-dependent state after France in the European Union, with atomic energy accounting for 50 percent of its electricity production.
The nuclear power plants have always played a very important role in the energy security of the Central European countries. Czech Republic has six nuclear power plants and last year launched a tender for the construction of two new reactors; Slovakia and Hungary have both four reactors with two more under construction; Slovenia shares one nuclear power plant with Croatia and considers building a second one.
Another country planning to extend its energy security by construction of its first nuclear power plant is Poland. The new power plant is set to be located new the Baltic Sea and should be launched by 2020.
The construction of nuclear power plants has been booming in the Baltic region. While for several years Lithuania has been negotiating the construction of nuclear power plant as a joint venture of Baltic countries and Poland, in 2010 Russia started building of the Baltic nuclear power plant in the Kaliningrad Region and last year Russia and Belarus agreed to build Russia-financed nuclear power plant in Ostrovets in Grodno region near Lithuanian boarders.
Furthermore, in December 2011 Poland’s largest power utility, PGE Polska Grupa Energetyczna SA suspended its participation in Lithuanian plans of joint venture. The relations between Poland and Lithuania have deteriorated last year over the Polish minority in Lithuania. Poland withdrew its ambassador from Lithuania and claims that Lithuania discriminates against the Polish national minority.
While some Central European and Baltic are working on expanding their nuclear energy power as a crucial part of their energy security, another countries, as for example Germany, have decided to phase out atomic energy after the Fukushima accident. Germany has already closed eight of its reactors with a timeline to shut down the spare nine by year 2022. German Chancellor Angela Merkel declared in May 2011 that Germany could serve as a global leader for a new age of renewable energy sources.
However, the leading actor in stopping nuclear energy throughout Europe is Austria. Since 1979, when the Austrians voted “No” to nuclear power in a national referendum, Austria has been actively opposing the construction and questioning the safety measures of nuclear power plants in its neighbouring countries.
"Austria is against nuclear power. After Fukushima it is clear that it is no perspective for Europe or the world. So we see that nuclear power plants are not safe and we are working on an anti-nuclear alliance to find a way for Europe in the future working without nuclear energy," declared Austrian Environment Minister Nikolaus Berlakovish.
Despite leading the anti-nuclear alliance in Europe, which includes Ireland, Portugal and Greece, Austria is surrounded by countries with nuclear power plants. Therefore, the debate on nuclear energy in the Central European region is far from over.
The author is CEPI Research Assistant