Report: NEC2016 Conference: "Nuclear Energy - Expensive Gamble"

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=> CZECH version of this article

There were three opening and eight main speeches presented at the Nuclear Energy Conference 2016 held in Prague on April 5. The conference website includes the presentations, profiles of the speakers, photos and audio recordings of all three sections in three languages.

Speakers expressed their surprise at how there is still a need to talk about the unresolved safety problems 30 years after Chernobyl and five years after Fukushima. It was highlighted that energy economics has changed: today we need flexible electricity systems and small units such as renewable energy sources. These are getting cheaper, with almost zero operating costs and negligible costs of disposal in comparison to nuclear power plants. A pressing need to reduce risks associated with radioactive releases to the environment was mentioned and how the associated risks increase with a plant lifetime extension. In connection with this there were serious concerns raised about an indefinite [1] license to operate the first block of the Dukovany nuclear power plant which was issued in March 2016.

On the accidents at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl (the Jaslovské Bohunice accident in 1977 was also discussed briefly) it was concluded that until now nuclear accident modelling approaches have always failed because they were not able to incorporate the human factor. It was made clear that high standards for nuclear energy exist, but only on paper with no implementation in practice. Safety culture of operators and their control by the state authorities are lacking. Furthermore, operators are trying to save money on safety measures. The audience discussed these topics in relation to the presentations on the EU's new Nuclear Safety Directive and limited liability. It has been pronounced that civil society participation is indispensable in order to improve safety culture. Also, to prevent disasters such as Chernobyl, the consequences of which have become more obvious nowadays. The TORCH study [2] has shown that at least additional 40,000 deaths in Europe are inevitable due to radioactive fallout after Chernobyl.

As was said in the opening speech, the coming two years should indicate the future direction of the European energy industry. Whether billions will be invested to subsidize new and current nuclear projects, whether a legal action against the Hinkley Point C project in the UK will succeed and whether subsidies for nuclear energy will be banned, based on a legal ‒ not political ‒ decision. We can only hope that by then no nuclear accident caused by aging nuclear power plants will occur. There are serious concerns with aging reactors, as stated in the presentations devoted to technological parameters of the Belgian, Slovakian and French plants. Serious shortcomings of nuclear power plants in Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic were also commented upon in the presentation on safety 'stress tests'.

Olga Kališová, Calla (April 18, 2016)