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Europe: Nuclear confusion

NUCLEAR energy is, to its supporters, essential to bridge the growing power supply gap in central, southern and eastern Europe. But project developments across the region are struggling to gain momentum.

In April, the prime ministers of Poland and Estonia publicly expressed their dissatisfaction with Lithuania over the slow pace of development of the country's new nuclear power plant. The three Baltic states plus Poland agreed in 2006 jointly to build the Visaginas plant to replace the existing Ignalina facility, which Lithuania agreed to shut down in 2010 as part of its deal to join the EU in 2004.

But since 2006, disagreements about the share of power that each country would receive from the 3.0-3.2 gigawatt (GW) plant have pushed back the start date several times. The facility was originally due to be up and running by 2015, but the official target is now 2018 – although analysts reckon 2020 is more realistic.

"We are absolutely dissatisfied with the very slow pace of the preparations regarding the plan to build a new nuclear power station at Ignalina in Lithuania," Estonian prime minister Andrus Ansip told a press conference with his visiting Polish counterpart, Donald Tusk. "The slowness of the Ignalina project is the reason why Estonia has launched preparations to look for an option to build its own nuclear power station." Estonian, Latvian, Lithuanian and Polish authorities would meet in the near future to discuss the Ignalina project's progress, Ansip said.

Meanwhile, Turkey's government keeps putting off a decision about its first nuclear power plant because of the public controversy that has grown around it. Local elections at the end of March were the latest reason given by the government for postponing a decision on whether the sole bidder in the tender to build the facility – a consortium of Russia's state-owned Atomstroyexport and Inter RAO, and Turkish company Park Teknik – would be given the go-ahead to build the plant at Akkuyu, on Turkey's east Mediterranean coast.

Last year's tender ended up as a farce, when the other pre-qualified bidders – including Atomic Energy of Canada and Suez Tractobel – were denied a request for longer to prepare their bids because of the global economic crisis. This left the Russian-led consortium as the only bidder – an irony, given that the government's interest in nuclear power is motivated by its desire to reduce Turkish dependence on Russian energy supply.

The consortium has also already had to drop its price for the guaranteed off-take, which will see Turkey's power grid take 100% of the 1.2 GW plant's output at an agreed, fixed price up to 2030. The consortium's original bid price of €0.21 a kilowatt hour (kWh) caused consternation in the media given that private-sector power companies sell electricity to Turkey's slowly liberalising power market for €0.04-0.14/kWh. That controversy has scarcely been dampened by the consortium's subsequent offer to drop its bid to €0.15/kWh.

Meanwhile, confusion reigns over a proposed joint-venture facility to be built by Croatia and Albania. A spokesman for Croatia's economy ministry, Tomislav Mazal, was widely reported last month as saying the countries are due to sign a memorandum of understanding on the construction of a nuclear power plant. Media reports said the estimated €4bn, 1.5 GW plant would be built near Lake Skadar, on the border of Montenegro with Albania.

But following criticism from various Montenegrin experts about the danger of building such a nuclear plant in an earthquake-prone region and so close to the country's main tourist area, the Croatian economy ministry rushed out a statement in which Mazal denied that the ministry or the government had ever given information on the signing of a nuclear power plant project.

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