The inquiry sent by Finnish MEP Uma Aaltonen and the European Commission’s answer

Publish date: February 20, 2004

For Question Time at the part-session in February 2004
Pursuant to Rule 43 of the Rules of Procedure
By Uma Aaltonen
To the Commission

Subject: Closure of the Sosnovy Bor nuclear power plant on the expiry of its operating permit
At Sosnovy Bor, close to St Petersburg, there is a nuclear power plant with four 1000-MW reactors. They are all of the same RMBK type as at Chernobyl. At the insistence of the EU, the nuclear plant, at Ignalina in Lithuania, also of this type, will close when Lithuania joins the EU. According to a report published on 21 January 2004 by the environmental organisation Bellona, the Sosnovy Bor plant is characterised by poor working practices. Thefts have taken place there, for example, and the used nuclear fuel storage has been over-filled for several years. The plant is situated some 200 km from Helsinki and Tallinn. It constitutes a significant safety risk to Estonia and Finland in particular, but also to Europe as a whole. Last autumn the original operating permit for the oldest of the Sosnovy Bor reactors expired, and a request was made for it to be renewed for another 15 years.

Now that an application is pending for an operating permit for this reactor, and similar applications will be made for the other reactors in future, does the Commission propose to open negotiations with the Russians concerning the closure of the dangerous Sosnovy Bor nuclear power plant?
Tabled: 26.01.2004

By Mrs. Aaltonen
February 2004

Unofficial translation from French

From 1992 at the Munich summit, the G7 and the European Union have decided to assist countries of Central and Eastern Europe in order to improve the nuclear safety of the newest nuclear power stations, and demanded the closure of the most dangerous stations.

The St. Petersburg Leningrad Nuclear Power Station, located near the city of Sosnovy Bor, has four RBMK type reactors of which two are of the first generation (brought on line in 1973 and 1975), and experts consider that they do not correspond to recognized international safety standards. The European Commission has repeatedly demanded that these two reactors be shut down in the shortest possible period of time, as well as the shut down of other first generation Soviet reactors.

In order to improve the safety of installations during temporary use until their eventual shut-down, some improvements were brought to these reactors, partially financed by TACIS—more than EUR20m for St. Petersburg beginning in 1994— and the EBRD European Bank of Reconstruction and Development. The improvements mainly focused on fire safety equipment and protection systems allowing for better control of reactivity and easing reactor shutdown (enrichment of fuel, effective control rods, etc.) with the aim of avoiding a Chernobyl type disaster. Nonetheless, the conceptual design of these reactors does not allow for them to reach Western norms of safety and the EC and the Russian government continue discussions for the conducting of negotiations on the closure of these first generation reactors.

The Commission’s proposals have not so far got an instantaneously favorable reception from the Russian authorities, who refer, by the way, to the number of reactors affected (10 reactors representing a quarter off Russia’ns installed nuclear power), and to the significance of nuclear energy for the development of the Russian economy (more than 15 percent of [Russia’s] energy is nuclear in origin).

The desire to extend the engineering lifespan of these installations beyond 30 years is indeed an item of concern that proves the difficulty of the current negotiations between the Commission and the Russian government. The safety of first generation nuclear power stations is taken into consideration in the energy dialogue between the European Union and Russia in framework of deliberations about the exchange of electrical power.