Paks II road tour to hold 40 public hearings in 20 days

April 15, 2015

paks-20150409_173449-740x400What is capable of resisting an earthquake, huge snow and even an airplane flying into it?  The wall surrounding the two new nuclear reactors at the Paks Atomic Energy Plant, according to the government.  At the public hearing held on the expansion of Hungary’s only nuclear power plant, the government commissioner held a lengthy speech in which he assured the audience that there will be no noise, dust or radiation but there will be lots of new jobs. Many were happy with this answer.  However, the older people worry about the Russian loan and especially what Russiand President Vladimir Putin will ask for it in exchange.

The government commissioner, an undersecretary, a member of parliament, the head of the government office, the local mayor, the head of the neighboring village and the mayor of the next town, accompanied by their staff and drivers, gathered at a cinema in Bölcske, a little village in Tolna county, on Thursday. On the other hand the village seemed to be quite sleepy as the kids were heading home from school and in some yards older women tended their gardens.

The reason for the gathering was the planned expansion of the nuclear power plant at Paks, 24 kilometers away.  The Hungarian government concluded a contract with Russia in January last year providing for the Russian state nuclear agency (Rosatom) to construct two new nuclear reactors with the help of a Russian loan. In December the framework agreements were concluded and the MVM Paks II. Zrt. project company began obtaining the necessary permissions and licenses. It was announced that a public hearing roadshow would be held in forty settlements near Paks.

The government officers responsible for the Paks expansion are holding the forty public hearings in twenty days. They visited Bölcske on Thursday, traveling on to Madocsa later that day. Bölcske mayor István Baranya said he was happy to see so many distinguished guests in the village.

The locals, on the other hand, were not very interested in the public hearing, judging from the number of empty seats at the small cinema. Commissioner Attila Aszódi’s address was mostly listened to by a small group of old ladies. Occupying an entire row, they focused on his lecture, which featured numerous diagrams and charts about the licensing procedure and the predicted noise and dust pollution. One of the old ladies even asked to see an exhibit again.

Even an airplane could fly into it

The commissioner in charge of the Paks expansion began his speech by saying “we would like to use nuclear energy in Hungary at least until the end of the century”.  According to Aszódi one third of the country’s energy supply is coming from four 500-MW reactors at Paks, two of which have to be shut down in the 2030s because their operational life has already been extended once.  He said the use of electricity will definitely increase.

Aszódi took care to mention every five minutes that the new power plant will be very safe as well as competitive . “Safety first” read the projected slide. According to the commissioner Hungarian engineers have sent more than 11 thousand technical requirements to the Russians.  He highlighted only one of them: the casing of the new reactors, which is to be a “robust ferroconcrete building, a huge tank”.   According to the plans there will be two walls: the inner one would keep the radiation inside in case of an accident and the outer wall would protect the reactor from any impact coming from outside. According to Aszódi the wall will be capable of withstanding a tornado or the impact of an airplane.

The shell itself will be the biggest difference between the old and the new reactors and some important things will not be changed. For example, the new reactors will be cooled by the water of the Danube. According to Aszódi 230 cubic meters of water are required to simultaneously cool the six reactors.  As the capacity of the river is way more than that, he says no problem could occur.  According to Aszódi, the used water will be 8 degrees Celsius warmer when it goes back to the watercourse and will cool back to the original temperature over a stretch of 7 kilometers. Aszódi guarantees that the water will not be warmer than 30 degrees Celsius even on the hottest summer days.

No dust, no noise, no radiation

According to the plans the nuclear plant will be ready by 2025-26 even though the actual construction will only be started three years from now. During this period some 6,000 licenses and permissions have to be obtained. The construction of two new reactors “will not be a pushover” assures the commissioner, as these are “really large-scale constructions.”

“Imagine that we are going to build two reactors next to each other,” he said. “We start with two huge, deep working pits. A foundation will be built, and on the ground plate the reactor’s building and the turbine’s casing will have to be built. A huge amount of iron and concrete will be used.”

At the peak almost seven thousand workers would be on the site.

According to Aszódi there is no need for concern. Dust and noise will only be at the construction site and the neighboring settlement of Dunaszentbenedek, but still under the limit permitted by law. The level of ground water will be lower but the wells won’t dry out. Once the reactors are working only one diesel engine test will cause some noise, but it will only be heard at Dunaszentbenedek. Nobody has to worry about the radiation.

After Aszódi’s lecture,  former minister for national development Mrs. László Németh briefly spoke about the loan agreement concluded between Hungary and Russia. The essence of her words was that the EUR 10 billion giga-loan is paid back by the government which guarantees that the price  of the electricity will not go higher. “This is very favorable,” she assured the audience.  An old lady just hummed and hawed.

We will be six feet under

“I think this whole deal is kind of weird,” said Matild, an elderly pensioner at the public hearing. In her opinion Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and Putin decided on the construction themselves.  “They should have asked the people’s opinion,” she added.

“We will be six feet under,” said another elderly lady who was just about to leave on her bicycle. “The youth should be here but where are they?” she asked. She and another lady said that they have heard some new information at the hearings, for example that the old reactors are “expired”. Therefore, they are a bit worried, “lest the Danube turn into fish soup” and she agreed that the old reactors have to be replaced.

Regarding the Russian loan they are not at all happy. “Russians took a lot from us. What if Putin changes his mind and asks for more?” said one of the elderly ladies.

There is no way to “economize” 20 percent of the concrete

After Bölcske the government delegation went to Madocsa where Aszódi held a lecture almost identical to the one in Bölcske. Old and young attended but most of those in attendance were from the local government office.

It was pretty clear after Bölcske that the local leaders support the investment. The mayor said most of the locals work in the power plant and they welcome news of the construction. “Here everybody supports the power plant, nobody is against it,” said an old man at the end of the lectures. However, he mentioned that part of the loan for the construction can be “re-distributed”.

In response, Aszódi said he did not even understand the question. “Corruption is a crime and this project cannot be accomplished by corruption,” he said. “There is no way to ‘economize’ 20 percent of the concrete or the computers.”

The Russians want their own colony

“We are very much interested in the new jobs,” said someone, and Aszódi repeated that seven thousand people would work at the new reactors. One third of them would be highly trained experts. Two-thirds must have either high school or technical degrees.  For the operation 1.000 new workers would be hired. “These people will need services. They will need accommodation, food and entertainment. And these services will have to be provided here.”

Aszódi continued: “We would not like to see a situation where the construction is over and seven thousand workers leave resulting in six thousand empty units. We do not want to create a huge building estate.  We would rather distribute the workers at the neighboring settlements. Except the Russians. They already noted that they will arrive with 700-800 engineers and they will need a building estate where they can live until the completion of construction.”

“What will happen to the old decommissioned blocks?” asked many at Bölcske. The nuclear fuel remains there for five years and then it is transported away. After this period the power plant is closed for decades to allow the radiation levels to decrease before the reactors are dismantled.  According to Aszódi even a green field could be there after all, but he would be happy to see an industrial park there. “It will be a question only some 50 years from now,” he said.