Hungarian NPP to load Soviet reactors with British fuel

Publish date: May 23, 2002

Written by: Vladislav Nikifоrov

Hungary's only nuclear power plant, Paks, plans to buy part of its enriched uranium fuel from British Nuclear Fuels Ltd (BNFL) in a bid to cut costs and diversify supplies, Paks officials said yesterday.

"We are looking at having at least one of our reactor block supplied with fuel from BNFL," Paks general director Csaba Baji told a news conference, Reuter reported.

Paks has four Soviet-type VVER-440 pressurised water reactors, the first of which became operational in 1982. Last year Paks produced 14.126 GWh of power or 39.1 percent of the country’s total consumption.

A state-level contract gives Russia exclusive rights to supply Hungary with enriched uranium rods for its nuclear plant, but Russia is already in breach of the contract as it has stopped taking back spent nuclear fuel.

Back in October 1998, Russian PM signed a decree allowing the importation and reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel (SNF) from the Paks nuclear power plant in Hungary to the Mayak reprocessing facility near the Urals city of Chelyabinsk. Alarm was raised when the first 23 tonnes of SNF arrived at Mayak and a number of Chelyabinsk environmental groups, as well as "Greenpeace," stopped the remainder of the shipment with a suit in the Supreme Court. The federal government, however, intervened with an appeal. On Tuesday this week the Russian Supreme Court upheld its 1998 decree ruling blocking a 377-tonne-shipment of Hungarian spent nuclear fuel which had been granted passage into the country by the governmental decree.

Paks deputy director Gabor Vamos said that Paks did not negotiate with BNFL on the possibility sending waste of reprocessing at BNFL facilities in Britain. "This was not an issue with BNFL, as we were quite spoiled by Russia," Vamos told Reuter. "Their service [of storing the waste] was and, should it restart, will be unique in the world."

Russian Ministry of Nuclear Energy (Minatom) equipped with the law favouring spent fuel imports, approved last year, is trying out exactly that scheme. Minatom intends to propose its customers to take back SNF — no questions asked. Other nations, such as France and Great Britain, ships waste generated from SNF reprocessing back to the country of origin.

But Paks officials have other considerations as well. Mr Vamos said that buying fuel from BNFL would provide healthy competition to its Russian supplier. "Russia can go practically as low as it wants to with the price but it won’t do so as long as it has no competitor," Vamos said.

Paks President Gyorgy Meszaros said that the firm was currently looking at extending the plant’s lifespan by 20 years from the originally planned 30 years up to 2012. "In 2012, when the first reactor should be stopped, it will chug on merrily for I hope another 20 years," Meszaros said.

Meszaros said that after a ruling this year in which Hungarian energy watchdog MEH acknowledged extra costs of Paks, the company would probably triple its profits in 2002 to 4.5 billion forints ($17.19 million) on sales of around 100 billion. Last year state-owned Paks posted a pre-tax profit of 1.442 billion forints on sales of 85 billion forints, Reuter reports.