Hungary’s nuclear power plant expansion, Paks 2, is “proceeding according to plan,” the local unit of Russia’s Rosatom, the general contractor for the project announced on Monday. Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has also stressed that the project must not fall victim to the sanctions against Russia, which is financing 80 percent of Paks 2. Meanwhile, some critics of the project say it is already clear that the expansion has failed. The European Commission has also spoken on the matter, giving an evasive answer, but saying that current EU-Russian relations are not moving in a positive direction.
Work on the upgrade of Hungary’s Paks nuclear power plant (Paks 2) is “proceeding according to plan,” the local unit of Russia’s Rosatom, the general contractor for the project, told regional news agency Paks-Press on Monday.
“Rosatom has always fulfilled and is fulfilling all of its contractual obligations,” Rosatom Central Europe told Paks-Press.
The state of Russia is financing 80 percent of the cost of building two more blocks at the Paks nuclear power plant, which accounts for about half of domestic electricity generation.
In the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the western sanctions imposed on Moscow as a result, the Hungarian Prime Minister stressed that the project must not fall victim to the sanctions.
On Sunday afternoon, Viktor Orbán said in an interview with state news channel M1 that he believes the project should proceed despite Western sanctions against Russia. The Prime Minister said that the matter must be excluded from the list of sanctions, otherwise, Hungary will pay the price.
The government’s main argument in favor of the Russian-Hungarian nuclear investment is that the four reactor units currently operating in Hungary will have to be closed between 2032 and 2037, so a core power plant will be needed by then to guarantee the country’s secure energy supply.
Brussels uncertain on Paks expansion
In the meantime, the European Union seemed a lot less optimistic about the expansion of the Paks nuclear power plant than Rosatom.
Euronews on Monday asked the European Commission how Brussels views the construction of Russian nuclear reactors on EU territory in light of sanctions and the ongoing tensions between Russia and Europe.
The chief spokesman of the EC said he cannot give an answer to this particular question, as they are trying to respond to an immediate crisis – the attack on Ukraine. However, Eric Mamer added,
EU-Russia relations are currently going in the opposite direction.”
The European Parliament (EP) will also decide on a five-party resolution on Tuesday, which Népszava reported would impose even tougher sanctions and would also affect the Budapest-based International Investment Bank (IIB) [the financial institution the opposition labels a Russian “spy bank”] and Rosatom. However, the leftist daily points out that the EP resolution will not be legally binding: neither the EU institutions nor the member states will be obliged to implement the proposals it contains.
Contrary to the European Commission’s cautious response, there are also views that the investment between the Hungarian government and Rosatom has already failed.
Benedek Jávor, an adviser to the green-left opposition Párbeszéd party, said that due to the recent sanctions imposed on Russia by the EU and other international players -including the blacklisting of Russian VEB Bank which finances the expansion of Paks- the project has become “unrealizable in practice.”
“It should be clear to the government by now that Russian aggression against Ukraine has ended the Paks 2 project,” Jávor said.
The former Párbeszéd MEP added that the sober-minded were aware that projects enhancing dependence on Russia undermined the security of the country concerned, as well as that of the European Union as a whole.
Jávor blamed the government for having rushed into the Paks 2 project, and “putting all its eggs in one basket” by discouraging the use of wind power and alternative sources of energy.
Opposition calls for terminating Paks nuclear plant upgrade
The united opposition on Tuesday called on the government to terminate the Hungarian-Russian contract on the upgrade of the Paks nuclear power plant, in view of the Russian attack on Ukraine.
László Lóránt Keresztes, the parliamentary group leader of LMP, said Russian disregard for nuclear security was apparent in President Vladimir Putin’s decision to put nuclear forces on alert, in the Russian army’s attack on nuclear waste disposal sites and occupation of the nuclear plant’s premises in Chernobyl.
Keresztes said a nuclear waste management site “cannot be set up” near a city as it is planned near Pécs, in southern Hungary.
Olivio Kocsis-Cake, the deputy parliamentary group leader of the Párbeszéd party, noted that the EU sanctions imposed on Russia were also hitting the Russian bank financing the Paks upgrade. The state has so far ploughed some 300 billion forints (EUR 809m) into the project, he said, accusing Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and President János Áder to be “personally responsible for the unfavorable contract”.
Rather than a nuclear plant upgrade, Kocsis-Cake said Hungary should initiate talks with the Visegrad Group and other neighboring countries on sharing energy from renewable resources. He called for a household energy efficiency program, and for eliminating “factors standing in the way of the construction of solar and wind plants”.
Featured photo via atomeromu.mvm.hu