Hungary makes environmental case for Paks expansion

22 May 2019

Hungary and Russia have reportedly agreed to change the loan agreement for the expansion of Hungary's sole nuclear power plant Paks. According to bne Intellinews, Hungary will start repaying the loan once the two new units at Paks are connected to the grid and begin operations.

Attendees of the International Environmental Expedition to Paks (Image: Rosatom)

Meanwhile, Russia and Hungary have held their first "international environmental expedition" to the plant, and the head of Hungary's Directorate for Environmental Sustainability has explained the importance of nuclear power for the country’s climate change goals.

The existing Paks plant, which is 100 km south of Budapest, comprises four Russian-supplied VVER-440 pressurised water reactors, which started up between 1982 and 1987. Russia and Hungary signed an inter-governmental agreement in early 2014 for Russian enterprises and their international sub-contractors to supply two VVER-1200 reactors at Paks, including a Russian state loan of up to EUR10.0 billion (USD11.2 billion) to finance 80% of the project, which is known as Paks II.

The new units were originally scheduled to start operations in 2025-2026, but Rosatom has yet to obtain the final construction licence and so the date has been moved to a year later for the respective units.


According to Hungarian business daily Világgazdaság, Paks II - the project company for the upgrade of the Paks plant - paid Rosatom HUF9.66 billion (USD33 million) in March for the first quarter. The report adds that data from the Government Debt Management Agency (ÁKK) show the state called down EUR24.5 million in credit from Russia's state-owned Vnesheconombank, with the equivalent in forints - HUF7.83 billion - being 80% of the amount paid to Rosatom. Originally, just over HUF106 billion had been allocated in this year's central budget for the project, but a delay in state aid clearance for the project from the European Commission - which it granted finally in March 2017 - had slowed payments, the paper said. Last yearʼs budget allocation for the upgrade was HUF106.6 billion, but just HUF14 billion was paid to Rosatom, it added.


The first international environmental expedition to the Paks plant, which took place from 15 to 17 May, was attended by members of the Federation Council of the Federal Assembly and the State Duma, respectively the upper and lower houses of Russia's parliament; representatives of the Public Council of Rosatom and of the corporation’s plant operator subsidiary Rosenergoatom; representatives of Russian environmental organisation Green Cross International and the environmental movement Oka.

Members of the Russian delegation met with the vice-speaker of the Hungarian Parliament, János Latorzai, the minister responsible for the design, construction and commissioning of two new Paks NPP units, János Šyuli, Secretary of State for Energy Pál Kovács, and Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Russian Federation to Hungary, Vladimir Sergeyev, as well as the leadership of MVM Group and Paks NPP.

Oka and Hungarian environmental groups conducted dosimetry and meteorological measurements at the sites of the existing and planned units at Paks, as well as a public opinion poll on nuclear power.

"The idea of ​​a new form of Russian-Hungarian cooperation in the field of nuclear power plant safety has found support at the government level in Hungary. This is a good example of the application of uniform principles of transparency and equality from nuclear energy companies on interaction with the public, " Kovács said, according to a Rosatom statement.

Alexey Ekidin, leading researcher at the Industrial Ecology Institute, and a member of Rosatom's Public Council, added: "Every country that has built a nuclear power plant on its territory is making a big contribution to preventing the greenhouse gas effect. Every year, all the operating nuclear power plants in the world avoid the emission of more than two million tonnes of CO2. The low potential of acidification and eutrophication of nuclear power means no emission of air pollutants that harm ecosystems," he added.

Svetlana Churilova, director of the department for work with regions and state authorities at Rosenergoatom, noted that a similar event had been held in 2016 to assess the safety of the Leningrad II project in Russia, in which experts from six countries took part. Measurements were also taken at the construction site of the nuclear power plant under construction in Belarus, she said, and there have been public hearings with the participation of international experts at various venues in Russia.

Hungarian-Czech confidence

Nuclear energy is the key to affordable electricity prices, energy security and to meeting climate protection targets, János Süli, the Hungarian minister in charge of Paks II project, told reporters after meeting Czech President Miloš Zeman, who visited the Paks plant on 16 May.

According to Hungary Today, Süli and Zeman said the long-term use of nuclear energy is essential for their countries' ability to meet climate protection targets as well as ensure affordable energy prices and an uninterrupted supply of electricity. Nuclear energy covers about a third of electricity demand in both countries, reduces their dependence on imported energy and is not affected by changes in weather conditions, Süli said.

In a recent interview with the same newspaper, Csaba Kőrösi, the head of Hungary's Directorate for Environmental Sustainability, said effective solutions to climate change are urgently needed.

"Aside from a few media outlets, the fact of climate change is no longer a topic of debate. Instead, the debate is about the extent to which it is caused by humankind," Kőrösi said. "But around 95% of scientists agree that it is caused by humans, and this has been supported by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's evaluation as well. What does this 95% consensus mean? Magellan's sailing voyage around the world took place 30 years after Columbus' trip, but debates continued after this, for another 20 years, over whether the earth is flat or not."

He added: "I believe that there isn’t a lack of science-backed knowledge - and this enables us to see where humanity is now and where it is heading. Rather, there is division among interests. After all, climate change is influencing individual countries to varying extents."

Asked whether Hungary is doing enough against climate change, he said that in an international comparison the country’s efforts were good.

"For example, if we're looking at per capita greenhouse gas emissions, then, in the last 25 years we've succeeded in decreasing total emissions by 32%," he said. "However, if the question is, should we be content with this, then my answer is obviously no. After all, the current level of emissions is not sustainable and it also must be decreased."

As a lowland country, Hungary's hydropower potential is small, he said, and although there is coal, this is the main form of electricity production that ought to be avoided because it harms the environment. Geothermal energy technology has not been developed yet to the extent needed for large-scale use, he said. Gas plants are expensive to operate and that is why they are mostly used only for backup power supply, he added.

"I understand that it would be ideal if everything could be powered by renewable energy - a very reasonable goal. However, in Hungary today, energy production from renewable sources makes up only about 13% - including burning biomass. It's important that the renewable energy ratio should grow quickly," he said.

Currently, around one-third of the Hungarian electricity supply is imported. "We could ask then, why don't we buy more? A main caveat is that a significant amount of this electricity is produced from coal in countries like Poland and Ukraine. The power generating capacities there continue to age and a portion will totally die out within 5 to 10 years, and of course, the decisions surrounding these energy plants won’t be made with our perspective and interests in mind. So, in order to ensure energy security, we must sustain a much higher level of national capacity to stably guarantee electricity supplies."

He added: "Until the stability, reliability, and storage of weather-dependent energy sources are resolved, then we require a robust power generation capacity."

Asked about the effect on the Paks plant of the low water level of the Danube river last year, he said two questions arose from this. Firstly, how much warmer is the water discharged into the Danube after being used to cool down the plant? And, second, within a certain distance, by how much can the Danube heat up after passing through the power plant?

"Last year we did indeed have to scale back the production of the Paks nuclear power plant (for the fourth time ever). Not for reasons of nuclear safety, but rather for environmental protection. The more frequent drought's warming effects must be considered: the water passing through the power plant is warmer by the time it reaches Paks.

"However, I would emphasise that the water levels will never be too low to sufficiently cool the Paks nuclear plant in its current technological state. What may occur is additional heat exchangers will need to be introduced to provide some cooling so that the Danube does not exclusively soak up all the heat - but this is another question and it isn’t connected to nuclear safety."

Researched and written by World Nuclear News