Hungary to consider alternative sources for nuclear fuel

24 November 2023

The Hungarian Parliament has reportedly supported an amendment to the country's nuclear energy policy that would allow alternative sources to be used for fuel for the Paks nuclear power plant, which has until now relied on Russian-supplied fuel.

Hungary's Paks nuclear power plant (Image: Paks NPP)

During a session on 23 November, lawmakers approved the amendment, which had been proposed by the government, Russian news agency Tass reported. The amendment says that "the NPP may use a different, alternative fuel from another company, including during the extended period of its operation".

The four units at Paks are VVER-440 reactors that started up between 1982 and 1987 and they produce about half of the country's electricity. Their design lifetime was 30 years but that was extended in 2005 by 20 years to between 2032 and 2037. In December, the Hungarian Parliament approved a proposal to further extend their lifespan, which means preparations can begin on operating the plant into the 2050s.

"In order to ensure the facility's long-term safety and functioning, the Hungarian government decided to look for potential alternatives, keeping in mind the European Union's sanctions against the Russian corporation [Rosatom]," Tass said.

Until 2022, fuel for the Paks plant was delivered to Hungary via Ukraine, by rail. However, after the start of the Russian war with Ukraine, the delivery route had to be changed. Currently, nuclear fuel is being transported via the Black Sea. A ship, escorted by Russian Navy warships, transports the fuel to the Bulgarian port of Varna, from where it is delivered to Hungary by rail, via Bulgaria and Romania.

The Hungarian government has said that it does not intend to change its fuel supplier as long as deliveries remain stable. At the same time, the government is seeking to diversify its energy supplies, in accordance with the European Union's policies. According to the country's authorities, this principle applies to nuclear fuel as well.

Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Péter Szijjártó announced in late October that the third shipment this year of fuel from Russia for the Paks plant had arrived in Hungary. At that time, he said in a Facebook post: "Good news is that we have guarantees, so the delivery of fuel will continue in accordance with the contracts signed, guaranteeing the safe and predictable operation of the Paks nuclear power plant." He added, "Nuclear energy is an area where politics, geopolitics, or sanctions have no business."

He was quoted by the Budapest Business Journal as saying, "With regard to the operation of the Paks nuclear power plant, we have fuel rods at our disposal on site for a good long time."

Earlier this month, Szijjártó said after talks with Romania's Energy Minister Sebastian Burduja that the country will continue to allow the transport of Russian nuclear fuel to the Paks plant.

Since the beginning of the Russia-Ukraine war, there have been accelerated efforts for countries to diversify their fuel supply. Westinghouse's Swedish nuclear fuel manufacturing subsidiary, Westinghouse Electric Sweden AB, is leading the Accelerated Programme for Implementation of Secure VVER Fuel Supply. Launched in January this year, the programme aims to meet the urgent need of European countries operating such reactors to find an alternative source of fuel.

Hungary is pushing ahead with the Paks 2 project which was launched in early 2014 by an intergovernmental agreement with Russia for two VVER-1200 reactors to be supplied by Rosatom, with the contract supported by a Russian state loan to finance the majority of the project. Unlike other European countries which have been ending or reducing their energy links with Russia, Hungary has decided to continue with the project.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News