A couple of days ago, I linked to an article quoting Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov stating a need to restart Kozludy 3, a 405 MWe nuclear power plant that was forced to shut down at the end of 2006 as a result of EU demands as part of Bulgaria’s accession to the EU. A reader named Momchil provided some excellent local information helping me to understand that the effort for that restart is not as simple as Parvanov suggested, but indicating that it might be achievable given significantly more time. The reactor would probably not be able to contribute anything to relieve the specific energy needs of today – the fact that customers in Eastern Europe have limited access to heat – but it still might be pursued.
Slovakia is is a slightly different situation. The Slovaks have a 440 MWe nuclear power plant at Jaslovske Bohunice that they just had to shut down at the end of 2008 as a result of their EU accession agreement. That reactor can be restarted within a week, so the Slovaks are taking all necessary action to make that restart a reality. I love this quote from a recent Reuters article:
“We are aware that this is a violation of the accession agreement, but this is happening at a time of crisis,” Prime Minister Robert Fico told a news conference after the government made the decision at an extraordinary meeting.
“Damage from violation of the accession agreement is smaller than damage that would be caused by a collapse of the electricity system.”
Fico said the unit should resume power production in less than six days, and would remain in operation until Slovakia had guarantees of “absolute stability” in gas supplies.
Based on recent history, it sounds like that power plant will be in operation for a very long time, probably until its operating license expires. There is no reason for people that own a well operated and maintained reactor that meets international standards should agree to shut it down to satisfy an agreement made under duress, especially when the alternative to operating the reactor is to shiver.
Some press reports have been written by people who want to continue propagating the myth that the opposing view for those of us who advocate in favor of increased use of fission power comes from “Environmentalists”.
But with the EU’s dependence on energy imports on the rise, the cut in Russian supplies shows that “nuclear energy should be developed because it is a major guaranteed source in Europe’s energy mix,” a senior French diplomat said.
However, environmentalists say that increased nuclear energy use is not as good an idea as it may seem.
“Nuclear energy is used to generate electricity while 90 percent of Russian gas imports to Europe are used for heating. They’re two different things,” said Greenpeace official Jan Beranek.
Also environmentalists point out that while nuclear power may not contribute to greenhouse gas emissions, the long-term problem of disposing of nuclear waste remains a major challenge.
“Moreover, countries such as Bulgaria, Slovakia and the Czech Republic depend on Russian fuel for their nuclear plants which means that the issue of dependence on Russia is not solved.
“These countries would do better to improve their energy efficiency,” he said.
I would love to see the discussion between shivering Slovaks who are already wearing multiple layers of sweaters and coats and Jan Beranek. I can just imagine what they might say when told that all they need to do is become more efficient. I also wonder just how someone can assert that electricity and heat are not fungible – one can purchase an electric room heater in the US for about $20. If a city is a bit more patient and has a district heating system, I highly recommend consideration of a Canadian Slowpoke (2.3 MB PDF file) reactor to replace gas fired furnaces.
This gas dispute and the economic underpinnings of the failure to reach agreement should cause critical thinkers to question that mythology. The case here is that Russia wants more money for the gas that it supplies. Given the fact that Ukraine pays significantly less than the going rate in Europe, that sounds kind of reasonable, except when you realize that it represents a 50% price increase at a time when Ukraine is desperately trying to weather an economic crisis – like many other countries. GAZPROM (aka the Russian government) believes that its market dominance of a vital commodity gives it negotiating power – when you cut off a supply of heat in the middle of a bitter winter, you get people to come to the table.
When the customers have options, like starting up a nuclear power plant that can supply electricity without any new fuel for 18-24 months, the customers are less likely to need to grovel at the bargaining table. Stated more clearly – opposition to fission thermal plants often comes from gas and coal suppliers that want more market power.
Some Germans are reconsidering their current agreement to shut down their fine nuclear plants, and Poland is strongly considering the advantages of investing in new nuclear power to diversify its electrical power supplies. As I predicted almost as soon as GAZPROM announced its decision to begin closing the valves, I believe that the Russians have made a self-destructive marketing move here. That excites me to no end; I never have felt much love for oligarchs and dictators.