Gas crisis gives Slovakia excuse to restart nuclear unit
After a dispute between Russia and Ukraine that disrupted European gas supplies last week, Slovakia has announced it will restart a nuclear reactor which was shut down recently in accordance with its EU accession treaty. The decision irked Austria and is expected to add more tension to a meeting of EU energy ministers today (12 January).
Slovakia's Prime Minister Robert Fico announced on Saturday (10 January) that the decommissioned 440 MW unit at Bohunice will resume production within the next week, in order to maintain stability of the country's electricity grid.
"We are aware that this is a violation of the accession agreement, but this is happening at a time of crisis," said Fico, quoted by Reuters, after the government made the decision at an extraordinary meeting. Bratislava had declared a state of emergency on Tuesday (6 January) after the flow of Russian gas had stopped.
Austria, which has been at the forefront of efforts to close Bohunice, reacted angrily to the Slovak decision. Environment Minister Nikolaus Berlakovich labelled the development "completely unacceptable" and urged the European Commission to take action.
A spokesperson for the EU executive bought time by saying that so far, the Commission had received no official notification of Bratislava's move.
Bulgaria, which has been hit even more dramatically by the gas crisis than Slovakia, also hinted that it could reopen one of its 440 MW units at Kozloduy NPP, which have been mothballed since 31 December 2006. Yesterday (11 January), the country's prime minister, Sergei Stanishev, said reopening the units would be an extreme measure, but could be envisaged should the crisis take too much longer to resolve.
Gas talks stalled
In the meantime, talks to restart Russian gas supplies collapsed once again, amid Russian accusations that Ukraine had modified a previous agreement to send EU monitors to check the flow of gas from Russia through Ukrainian territory.
Russia declared the agreement, brokered by the Czech EU Presidency earlier on Sunday, to be "null and void," claiming that Ukraine had unilaterally added an annex to the agreement waiving Kiev's debt to Moscow.
As for the Commission, a spokesperson for the EU executive said the annex in question did not change anything regarding the agreement to send observers. The Czech Presidency also insisted that the agreement was still alive. In the meantime, the EU monitoring team reached its intended destinations. However, without Russia resuming supply operations, the EU monitors will not have much to do.
Back in 1992, at a G7 summit, it was decided that Bohunice nuclear power plant (NPP) in Slovakia, Ignalina NPP in Lithuania and units one, two, three and four of Kozloduy NPP in Bulgaria had to be closed as they presented an unacceptably high level of risk.
Under the terms of its EU accession treaty, Slovakia had to phase out production at two of the remaining four reactors at its Jaslovské Bohunice site.
To compensate, Slovakia is keen to complete construction at a newer site, Mochovce, by investing a further €1.6bn in the plant. The construction of the plant began under the Communist regime in 1986, based on an outdated Russian design first developed in the 1970s.
Slovakia and Lithuania joined the EU ahead of Bulgaria in 2004, and thus secured better conditions for the early closure of their nuclear reactors. Unlike Bulgaria, those countries closed their units after accession. This allowed them to obtain additional decommissioning funding at the EU summit in December 2005, when the EU budget was approved. In addition to the amounts already committed, Lithuania received a further €865m, while Slovakia obtained another €375m.
Last July, the Commission gave the go-ahead for the two remaining reactors at Mochovce to be completed (EurActiv 18/07/08).
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev reacted sharply to what he saw as a unilateral modification of the agreement signed by his country and Ukraine. "I cannot call such stipulations and additions other than a mockery of common sense and violation of earlier agreements. These actions aim to disrupt the existing agreements on monitoring gas transit and are clearly provocative and destructive in essence [...] I therefore order the government not to implement the document signed yesterday," Medvedev said.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin admitted that the gas conflict with Ukraine had already cost Russian gas giant Gazprom 800 million dollars (600 million euros) in lost revenue. "Europe has to give out a clear and comprehensible signal [...] to Ukraine so that (Kiev) behaves in a normal and civilised way," Russian news agencies cited Putin as saying in an interview with German television.