Monday, October 8, 2012

Michal Hudec: Final report on stress tests: Nothing new about Slovakian nuclear power plants

According to the information published by some French and German media, based on leaked final report on stress tests, hundreds of deficiencies were detected on nuclear power plants thorough the Europe. At the same time, each reader should keep on mind that all weaknesses had been already described in national reports on stress tests. The final one just summarizes and puts all of them together on a relatively short piece of paper.

NPPs in Europe are not safe, no power plant in France met IAEA’s standards and also NPPs like Mochovce and Jaslovske Bohunice in Slovakia as well as Temelin and Dukovany in Czech Republic faced a lack of security, while the only difference between them should be a better emergency planning in Slovakia.

All those feelings described above occur while reading news in French or German media. Meanwhile, basic conclusions from the final report were introduced by European Commissioner Mr. Gunther Oettinger last week, but the complete text will be published after the report is presented on the floor of the EU Council.

Acceptability of risk

What kind of picture does make the information from leaked report? First, the final report just summarizes the majority of conclusions and observations described in national reports; all published at the very end of 2011, amended by international expert teams while visiting all NPP sites. Those inspections took place during the springtime 2012.

Second, the stress tests were carried out in last year, so the conclusions mentioned in national reports were linked to the situation as it was in 2011. From that time, all NPP operators had started with implementing the security improvements in line with recommendations stemming from national reports. So, during 2012 the overall security level changed and increased.

Third, there was enough space in national reports for analysis not only of weaknesses, but “strongs” as well. In contrary, the main aim of the final report is to underline the weaknesses, in order to increase the level of NPPs’ security in the future. Probably because of this fact, the overall picture created by the media interpretation of the final report might look at first sight so pessimistic.

Each energy installation is accompanied by the concrete risks. So does not only every NPP but for example each type of renewable energy source as well. Each energy installation means some kind of impact for the environment. When deciding about the development of new energy source, one has to analyze related risks and compare the acceptability of those risks to the public and economic expectations and benefits.

The main advantage of nuclear energy technology is the ability to generate huge amounts of electricity for the lower prices in comparison with the other energy technologies. On the other hand, in case of disaster or under critical circumstances, each NPP represents very high level of threat for the environment. In order to keep cheap electricity generated in NPPs safe, each operator of nuclear facility has the legal and moral obligation of continuous increasing of the safety level. Each electricity producer has to meet the up-to-date standards and reflect the latest knowledge and experience. That is a kind of “must have”.

No nuclear power plant is and never be 100 % safe. Disaster that happened in Fukushima last year just reminded this uncompromising fact. The main aim of the stress tests introduced by the EU had never been finding the way how to declare that the situation in European NPPs was different and everything had been all-right. Even in case that the national regulatory authority concluded in national report meeting the minimal required safety standards, the aim of stress testing had remained the identification the weaknesses, so they could be eliminated in a short term. In other words, the aim of each national report is to look at concrete NPP in light of possible extreme circumstances and go further in finding ways how to improve the technology or construction robustness and safety. In fact, each national report claimed that the weaknesses were found on every NPP. This was also the observation of the report prepared by the Slovakian Nuclear Regulatory Authority.

The problem is in France

It is not a secret that also the NPPs Mochovce and Jaslovske Bohunice in Slovakia have to implement some measures mentioned in the national report. Those measures are for example linked to the flood resistance, meteorology study updates, the need of more diesel-generators on each site, optimization of energy consumption of the system of emergency lights as well as the improvement of logistics of NPP’s safety systems activated in case of NPP internal blackout, which represents the risk for cooling already shut-down reactor.

Foreign media informed that Slovakian NPPs lack some technologies like systems of filtration or mechanisms preventing hydrogen explosions. Before the official publishing of complete text of the final report, it would be a speculation to make any statements with regards to this.

However, the aim of stress tests was to analyze if concrete NPP has the capability of dealing with some extreme situation. The methodology did not prejudice that each NPP should manage the extreme situation by using the same technology or construction solution. Simplified, it is necessary for each NPP to overcome the extreme situation, but every power plant has a variety of different ways how to do that.

Media observation that no French NPP had met the IAEA’s standards described just the situation in France. This statement cannot in no way be linked to the analysis of the safety level of NPPs operated in Slovakia or elsewhere. Neither leaked report nor commissioner Oettinger during his press conference last week did touch the quality of any national report, so the Slovakian. Therefore the media observation is the bad reference for France at the first and only the preventive warning for the others at the second.


Written by Michal Hudec (publisher and analyst at energia.sk)

Notice: The commentary was published by SME daily (05/10/2012). This version has been slightly updated.

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