Krško N-plant gets environmental permit to extend life span
Slovenia's sole nuclear power station has been granted an environmental permit, a key condition for the extension of its life span by twenty years, to 2043. The permit was issued by the Ministry of the Environment and Spatial Planning.
The permit concludes the environmental impact assessment procedure conducted at the Krško nuclear power station (NEK) after last year's scheduled maintenance during which the plant was upgraded to remain operational for another 20 years.
The procedure entailed assessments of seismic safety, safety improvements, efforts to reduce the likelihood of environmental disasters, resilience to climate change and external factors, and the impact on water in light of the warming trend of watercourses in eastern Slovenia, Environment Minister Uroš Brežan told reporters on 16 January.
NEK has prepared a programme of measures to ensure nuclear safety and made a number of major investments to improve safety, such as a dry storage facility for high-level radioactive waste, and a number of other safety upgrades, Brežan added.
He said all the findings of the national Nuclear Safety Administration had been taken into account in the environmental impact assessment and presented to the public. The administration carries out periodic safety inspections every 10 years.
"The administration regularly checks how NEK implements all international recommendations and makes improvements. It concluded that the plant is in a condition that ensures that there are no safety risks during normal operation," the minister said.
"Scientific models have also been developed for accident scenarios, which show that if all the preventive measures already in place at NEK today are implemented, there will be no significant impacts," he added.
Infrastructure Minister Bojan Kumer said the environmental permit was a key milestone for the extension of NEK's life span, but not the last one. Given the energy crisis, it is a "very important signal that we have the energy situation under control", he said.
"This is an extremely stable, extremely reliable, safe, competitive [energy] source, which has shown its results in the challenging energy situation," Kumer said.
NEK CEO Stanislav Rožman said the plant would need to fulfil some more conditions before its life span is extended but added that all these procedures were in their final stages, including the Nuclear Safety Administration's periodic inspection.
All the studies have been finalised and approved by the administration, the CEO said, adding that an action plan should be ready this summer. "The periodic safety inspection showed no need for physical, technological upgrades," he added.
One of the conditions is the transfer of spent nuclear fuel to a newly built dry storage facility. The facility is now complete and is being tested. The transfer of the waste is expected to start in March and be completed around June.
"Then all the regulatory conditions will have been met and all the decisions issued by the administrative authorities in connection with the extension of the plant's operation realised," said Rožman.
Minister Brežan made a point of saying that the environmental impact assessment had been conducted in line with all international, European and Slovenian rules, and all four neighbouring countries as well as Germany participated in the cross-border consultations.
Regarding the safety reservations expressed by Austria, including about seismic safety, Brežan said Austria had been strongly involved in the process. Austrian experts were included in the process and a public debate was held in Graz. "As part of this procedure, experts managed to respond to all reservations expressed by Austria."
Vesna Kolar Planinšič, who leads environmental impact assessment procedures at the Environment and Spatial Planning Ministry, said a lot of attention had been devoted to seismic safety. It has been determined that the plant had been built to be safe in case of earthquakes and appropriately upgraded all along.
"We understood Austria's concerns. The plant is located in an earthquake zone, which is why acceleration had been taken into account in the calculations. It has been determined that, thanks to investments and upgrades to the internal elements, the plant can withstand strong earthquakes," Kolar Planinšič said.
Answering a journalist's question, she said "we should start worrying" in case of an earthquake above level 7. During recent earthquakes that hit Zagreb and Petrinja in Croatia, NEK automatically shut down and did not suffer any damage.
A new study conducted as part of plans for a potential new NEK unit found no seismic risks, Kolar Planinšič added. She noted that the environmental permit would become final in 30 days.
The initially planned life span of the plant, which was launched in 1983, was 40 years. Situated in the Krško area, close to the Croatian border, the power station is co-owned by Slovenia and Croatia with each holding 50%.