Strict safety measures
Giving the project the green light on 15 July, the EU executive concluded that construction of reactors three and four at Mochovce – suspended in the 1990s due to lack of finances – can continue provided that certain safety recommendations are adhered to.
The Commission nevertheless warned that the reactors in use at Mochovce do not feature the "full containment structures" common to recent, ongoing or planned construction of nuclear power plants elsewhere in Europe. Critics of the site have long said that it fails to satisfy modern safety requirements.
The EU executive called for "additional features, functional capabilities and management strategies" to be developed to bring the design into line with existing best practice. Specifically, it recommended that steps be taken to ensure the reactors could withstand "a potential deterministic impact from an external source", such as light aircraft.
Moreover, the Commission stressed the need for Slovakia to diversify Mochovce's fuel supply - expressing concern that the site relies too heavily on Russia as a nuclear fuel source – and ensure decommissioning funds are managed correctly.
Nuclear power has received renewed attention lately for a number of reasons. On the one hand, the Commission has clearly given its backing to the energy source as a key technology for helping the EU to reduce its oil dependency and slash its CO2 emissions. On the other, concerns about whether nuclear can really offer a safe low-carbon option have been revived lately after alerts regarding a coolant leak from a Slovenian plant last June (EurActiv 05/06/08) and a uranium leak from a treatment plant (Socatri) run by Areva in France just last week.
France is one of the EU's staunchest backers of nuclear energy and President Nicolas Sarkozy has been promoting French technology as "the safest in the world". While the French Environment Ministry played down the significance of the Socatri leak, saying "this is not a nuclear incident," the government has nevertheless ordered tests on the groundwater around all 58 nuclear reactors in the country in a bid to dispel fears that local water supply may have been affected elsewhere.
"I don't want people to feel that we are hiding anything from them," Environment Minister Jean-Louis Borloo said in an interview with Le Parisien yesterday (17 July).