Nuclear energy yesterday, today and the day after tomorrow
A panorama picture of the EU and beyond
57% of the world’s nuclear energy is produced by the United States of America, France and Japan, while the European Union produces 30% of the world’s nuclear energy. According to the report of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), there are 439 atomic energy reactors in 31 countries around the world. The approach to the question differs among EU counties which is shown by the fact that among the 28 member states, 15 has and 13 doesn’t have a functional atomic energy power station. Among the latter ones are Denmark, Italy, Portugal and Poland. There are no atomic power stations in Austria either, where, although one was built in 1980, because of the protest of the population, it was never used.
Government reactions in the EU
Since the 1986 Chernobyl and 2011 Fukushima disasters, there is an intense fear associated with nuclear energy, although at the moment, it seems to provide the only way in which the world can significantly reduce its carbon dioxide emission when producing power. After the severe accidents taking place in the Dai-Ichi power station of Fukushima, the British and French governments declared that they still supported atomic energy. However, Angela Merkel, German chancellor withdrew her previously planned prolongation of the reactor’s operation time. Some time after, the German government decided to stop 25% of its present nuclear power production capacity and that by 2022 they would close every atomic power station. The German public opinion turned away from atomic energy. The question is whether they can replace the amount of energy produced by atom reactors by alternative, renewable energy production methods.
In Hungary: Paks
In the initial stages of the planning, the experts found 16 locations that fitted the basic conditions for the installation and in the end they opted for Paks in April 1967. In 1976, the Atomic Energy Company of Paks was formed. In 1982, they started the operation of the first block, in 1984, the second and in 1986, the third and in 1987, the fourth. Up until today, 40% of the electricity produced in Hungary is supplied by Paks. When looking at the performance-exploitation rate, it is ranked as one of the best in the world. However, the reactors’ service time will expire by 2035. The replacement of the four, altogether 2000 megawatt reactors by two newer reactors of 1200-1600 megawatt respectively is only a plan at the moment. After several years’ of delay, the government promises the tender for the end of this year. Its investment costs, even according to the harshest estimates, are around 3000 billion forints, but in the long run, it can make energy production a lot cheaper according to the promises.
Hungary is a lot less negative about nuclear energy than Germany who is planning the closing down of atomic energy stations or Austria, our neighbour who does not rely on nuclear energy. In a way, we can say that Hungary is committed to nuclear power stations. In Europe, no new power station has been built since 1986, the year of the Chernobyl catastrophe. Although new ones are being planned, these are incredibly expensive and dangerous investments. We still tend to favour atomic energy for the future as well. The fact that we know little about the green energy producers and the opportunities hiding in them belongs to the truth as well: some of them are also incredibly expensive and at the moment are still less efficient in performance than atomic energy (which hasn’t found a rival yet), but at the same time they are less risky.
Why is it that the Hungarian public does not know more, why do they not understand that it is not a difficult thing involving complicated processes of creation and change-over, but that it provides a lot of opportunities for the industry with its innovation and potential of creating workplaces? Why is it that the Hungarian public is not bothered by the issue of Paks and in general, the question of atomic energy vs. renewable energy after the tragedies of Chernobyl and Fukushima? Because they don’t know enough about it. Because they haven’t heard enough about it. Because they are uninformed, misinformed and because of the lack of sufficient knowledge and information, they are not interested in the topic. This is what I think and what the organisers of the debate forum thought who invited those civilians, students, experts interested in the topic to discuss this decision that has a significant influence on our lives. Atomic energy is still the most modern and efficient provider of energy, but we should not forget that an accident can occur even is Paks. When we express an opinion without expertise, we have to know what are the disadvantages of atomic energy and which risks are involved in sticking to it.
The debate that was held in the Q building of the BME University was led by Dr Zoltán Hózer, the director of the Hungarian Nuclear Society and András Perget, the leader of the Energiaklub's Traditional sources of energy project and was carried out in a highly intelligent way, with lots of conclusions. The debate was moderated by György Horváth, a colleague of the Department of Environmental Economics. Amongst the more than hundred participants were university students, employees at Paks and retired electronic engineers – they did not hesitate a lot to ask questions. Can it be a good business to build reactor blocks in Paks? Is there an alternative? Is it an optimal investment financially to replace the current capacity with the building of new blocks? If not atomic energy, then what? Why is today’s population interested in what is going to happen in 2075? How can we calculate how much energy Hungary is going to need in 50 years? Where and how can nuclear waste be stored and what are the long-term results of it? The participants of the debate night were looking for the answers to these and similar questions. You should also think about these questions, because you are affected by it too! You should have an opinion too!
Written by Veronika Szőnyi
Translated by Judit Molnár