Czech nuclear envoy has interesting insights into the problems with nuclear power

Temelin nuclear power plant in the Czech Republic - copyright Jan Haverkamp/Greenpeace

On 10 April of this year, the mammoth Czech utility CEZ cancelled its tender for two new reactors at the Temelín nuclear power station after the government had declared it would not subsidise the effort.

That also meant the end to the mandate of the Czech government’s nuclear envoy Václav Bartuška. He had to oversee that the whole project – tendering and policy development – made sense. His final report makes for interesting reading. An English translation is here.

Bartuška concludes: “I do not want Temelín 3+4 in a country that does not have a ready network of motorways, high speed trains, the basic infrastructure of a modern state.”

His first conclusion is that decisions on nuclear power are only made by presidents and prime ministers, not by private firms or banks. Those latter are only prepared to participate if there are “clear conditions and guarantees promised by the sovereign power.”

He notes that with the Temelín tender the tiny Czech Republic rocketed itself from being a country not used to attention from superpowers to being very visible. In 2011, its Prime Minister suddenly was talking with the presidents of France, the USA and Russia. No wonder, Temelín 3+4 was the only open nuclear tender in the world. During his January 2010 to June 2014 mandate, Bartuška himself spoke with all the CEOs of Areva, Westinghouse and Rosatom, and visited all their generation 3 and 3+ construction sites, most of them several times.

The diplomat never made it a secret that he was pro-nuclear. That makes his conclusions the more revealing. He uncovers that where all three nuclear giants argue that their offer would be a standarised design, none of them in fact was. For example, Areva’s EPR in Taishan, China is 450 MWt more powerful than the one at its project in Olkiluoto, Finland. “That is a lot in a field, where a fifteen meter reactor is measured with the accuracy of a tenth of a millimetre.” Areva confirmed to him that only 50% of the nuclear island is the same.

At Rosatom, he notes, that not only is there no idea about costs, but there is also a “healthy rivalry” among three branches of Rosatom (Moscow, St. Petersburg and Nizhny Novgorod) that delivers different designs with different safety concepts.

Bartuška talked about cost overruns during his first visit with the project manager of the Leningradskaya 2 plant: “We have a delay of around three years,” the project manager said.  “How much more expensive will the project be?” I asked. “Nothing. It will cost exactly the same,” he answered.  I do not have a more concise summary of the differences between our candidates.

We had in the tender a private firm (Westinghouse), a state company (Areva) and a ministry (Rosatom). Asking about some things – for instance the price of delay – sometimes just made no sense.” Ah, such a refreshing breeze! He then adds: “When I was last year for the third time at Leningradskaya II, the shift against the original time-table was four years.”

While describing Westinghouse, he explains how in the market economy, supplier chains tend to unravel and that in a globalised world it is very difficult to control where and how production of parts takes place: The time when producers indeed produced their reactors and key-components (for instance like Westinghouse in long ago times), is over. It is difficult to get back [to that time], if the only decisive criterion is the lowest price.”

He blames the structural delays and cost overruns in construction on the loss of technical knowledge and skills in the West and the unpredictability of the liberalised electricity market.

That is where he diverts from our analysis: we believe the problem does not lie outside, but is inherently one of nuclear technology itself.

Wise words from a keen observer. The Bulgarian, Finnish, French, Hungarian, Lithuanian, Polish, Slovenian, Slovak, and the UK governments are well advised to read this report.

Jan Haverkamp is a nuclear expert consultant with Greenpeace Central and Eastern Europe

[Image: Temelin nuclear power plant. Copyright Jan Haverkamp/Greenpeace]

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