EU regulators appraise CEE nuclear plants

Ignalina and Kozloduy reported to fall short, Slovenian and Hungarian plants praised

Nuclear power plants in Lithuania and Bulgaria fail to meet Western safety standards and planned improvements are insufficient to bridge the gap, a new report concludes. Prepared by the Western European Nuclear Regulators' Association (Wenra), the report analyses nuclear safety in seven central and eastern countries applying to join the EU. Its main conclusions for each country reviewed are:

* BULGARIA

Planned safety improvements at two of six Soviet-designed VVER reactors at Kozloduy should achieve a level of safety "in line with reactors of the same vintage in western Europe". However, existing and planned improvements at the remaining four will not be sufficient to bring them up to acceptable standards.

* CZECH REPUBLIC

The Dukovany VVER plant "should be able to reach a safety level comparable to plants of the same vintage" in western Europe. The status of the Temelín VVER plant, currently under construction (ENDS Daily 8 April), could not be ascertained, but the group had "concerns that the ambitious safety improvement programme might not be successfully implemented," and said a "major effort" was necessary to prepare and assess a comprehensive safety case.

* HUNGARY

The VVER plant at Paks has "no major shortcomings" and planned improvements will enable it to reach a western standard of safety, but its containment "leaktightness" is not as good as that in western Europe.

* LITHUANIA

"Fundamental weaknesses" remain with the ability of the Soviet-designed RBMK plant at Ignalina to handle accidents and transient events without "unacceptable environmental consequences". The lack of an adequate containment system is a "major problem" which cannot be solved and prevents the plant achieving western European safety standards.

* ROMANIA

The Canadian-designed CANDU plant at Cernavoda has a similar safety design philosophy to western European plants. The group recommended an additional assessment of its ability to withstand earthquakes.

* SLOVAK REPUBLIC

Two reactors at the Bohunice VVER plant gave cause for concern in the event of severe accidents, while the other two would "probably" be as safe as western European plants of the same age in three years' time. Planned improvements at the recently-started VVER plant at Mochovce should ensure safety comparable with western plants of the same age.

* SLOVENIA

Safety at the US-designed Krsko plant "compares well" with that at other western plants, but a seismic characterisation of the site is still needed and the utility which operates it is small and needs long-term financial stability.

Overall, Wenra concluded that staff numbers, conditions and salaries should be improved in all CEE countries for regulatory authorities to retain staff competent enough to ensure adequate safety standards. Future reports will also review radioactive waste management and radiological protection.

Follow Up:
Swedish Nuclear Power Inspectorate, tel: +46 8 698 8400. References: "Report on Nuclear Safety in EU Applicant Countries".

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