Hungary's nuclear ambitions for climate change

13 December 2016

Hungary's commitment to nuclear power reflects its dedication to meeting ambitious global climate change targets as outlined by the International Energy Agency (IEA), government officials told delegates at the Budapest Energy Summit last week. Hungary joined the IEA in 1997.

Beatrix Kadar, deputy state secretary for energy affairs at Hungary's Ministry of National Development, stressed the importance of nuclear energy in the country's electricity mix, while Attila Aszódi, the government commissioner responsible for the Paks II expansion project, charted progress made with plans to build new reactors.

Paks currently comprises four Russian-supplied VVER-440 pressurized water reactors, which started up between 1982 and 1987. These units provide one-third of Hungary's electricity. An inter-governmental agreement signed in early 2014 would see Russian enterprises and their international sub-contractors supply two new units at Paks - VVER-1200 reactors - as well as a Russian state loan of up to €10.0 billion ($11.2 billion) to finance 80% of the project.

Kadar told the conference in the Hungarian capital on 5 December: "Nuclear will continue to remain an important part of Hungary's energy strategy with the maintenance of its reactor capacity. As nuclear power plants are almost emission-free producers of electricity, they are economical and efficient tools for meeting environmental and climate protection targets. Nuclear energy also contributes to security of supply and through its low operation cost to the competitiveness of the national economy."

Following Kadar to the podium, László Varró, the IEA's chief economist, said wind and solar power are transforming the electricity industry, but not fast enough to put the world on track for the UNFCCC's Paris Agreement target to hold the global temperature increase well below 2°C. This "climate stabilisation" target needs nuclear power to play a significant role in the low-carbon power mix, Varró said.

Varró, who is a Hungarian national, based his comments on the IEA's latest edition of its World Energy Outlook (WEO), which was published on 16 November. The WEO's 450 Scenario shows global nuclear generation output increasing by almost two-and-a-half times by 2040, compared to the present day - from 2535 TWh to 6101 TWh.

Kadar said natural gas plays an important role in the country's power generation mix thanks to the fuel's flexibility, but the national target for renewables to account for 14.65% of primary energy consumption by 2020 requires "significant upgrades in technical, regulatory and market design".

Another challenge, she added, "lies in the uncertainties about the development of innovative technologies, such as energy storage and battery technologies that can have a major impact on the pace of the energy transition". Bigger emphasis, she said, should be put on the development of energy storage technologies to make it possible to store energy for a longer time. “All national actions should be complex in approach in future by taking into account the needs of society and benefitting the economy as a whole. The World Energy Outlook forecast can therefore offer us energy policies, both current and future ones," she said.

Paks II

In his conference presentation on 6 December, Aszódi noted that nuclear leads the ENTSO-E electricity generation mix - with more than 800 TWh - and is followed by hydro, hard coal, natural gas, lignite, wind, and solar PV. According to the ENTSO-E net generation capacity mix, nuclear is fourth, after natural gas, hydro and wind, but before hard coal, solar PV, lignite and oil.

Citing World Nuclear Association data, he noted there are 450 nuclear units in operation worldwide, providing 391 GWe of net installed capacity in total and 17,000 reactor years of operation experience. In 2015, some 2441 TWh of electricity were supplied by nuclear units.

"This amount of electricity would have caused a large amount of 2°C emissions if it had been produced on a fossil-fuel basis. This would have been 1120 million tonnes of 2°C in natural gas-fired power plants, 2120 million tonnes of 2°C in coal-fired power plants, or 2400 million tonnes of 2°C in lignite-fired power plants,” he said. "With a 2°C-intensity of 15-30 t 2°C /GWh, nuclear power is “the most important low-carbon electricity source in efforts to combat climate change."

Speaking to World Nuclear News during the conference, Aszódi said Hungary's energy policy is "clearly in line with the prognoses the IEA has prepared".

He said: "Everyone talks about electricity sources which are only at a share of one-third - wind and solar in 2040 in the 450 Scenario - but no one talks about the two-thirds share - which is mainly nuclear and hydro, with a negligible share of gas and coal. What I see is a dramatic decrease in coal and the need for the capacity maintenance of nuclear. But capacity maintenance in 2040 means new construction of nuclear power plants are needed. We are working on capacity maintenance in Hungary and we hope that other countries, not only the UK, Finland and France, but others too will do the same in the long term."

The European Commission last month cleared Hungary's award of a contract to Russia's Rosatom to build the two new units at Paks. It had been examining until recently two matters related to Paks II - procurement and whether funding of the project amounts to state aid. On 17 November it closed the infringement procedure it had launched against Hungary over public procurement rules in connection with the project. It is still investigating whether there is state aid.

Project company MVM Paks II received an environmental licence in late September and in October submitted a site licence application for the two new units. A public hearing on the project was launched in the city of Paks today.

Aszódi told WNN Hungary is hopeful it will receive the European Commission's final decision before the end of the year.

"Our analysis of the age distribution of European power plants shows that in the next 15 years about 25% of all current production capacity will be retired, or older than 55 years. The picture is even worse further out, so we will definitely need in the near future power plants that are independent of weather conditions, like nuclear," he said.

The first Paks II unit is to be completed in 2025 and the second in 2026.

The Hungarian Atomic Energy Authority said on 9 December it had received an application to extend the operating licence of unit 4 for another 20 years, until 31 December 2037. Units 1 and 2, which received their 20-year licence extensions earlier this decade, will operate until the ends of 2032 and 2034, respectively. The regulator is expected to decide this month on a 20-year extension for Paks 3 - to the end of 2036.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News