Hungary sticking to its nuclear ambitions

Green Energy

Environmental concerns and the still haunting images of the Fukushima disaster continue to divide the world on whether nuclear energy should grow or go away. For Hungary, the drive is clear, with widespread support of nuclear power and the expansion of the country’s key electricity production unit to double output capacity.

The division among member states of the European Union hasn’t become any narrower in the recent past, even though it has been more than two years since the Fukushima disaster in Japan. Some countries remain strongly supportive, while others are categorically opposed to the utilization of atomic power in light of the Japanese incident.

This lack of a global direction has also been perceived to influence the European Commission’s approach and how it would finance investments into the technology and how it plans to regulate it. According to Hungary and its partners in the Visegrád Four group (Czech Republic, Poland, and Slovakia), the EC should be more permissive and even supportive of atomic power, which is seen as vital to the continued energy supply of the region.

“We expect the European Union to help rather than hinder the increase of nuclear capacity in central Europe,” Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán told reporters after meeting with his V4 colleagues in October. “This area must not be over-regulated and the issue of state aid for energy investments should also be reviewed, because we think that nuclear energy is being discriminated against here,” he added.

That Hungary, Czech Republic and Slovakia are expanding their nuclear capacities is in stark contrast to other European countries that drew greatly different conclusions from the aftermath of Fukushima.

Germany has decided to completely phase out nuclear power over the course of a decade, while Italy and non-EU member Switzerland also decided to base their future energy consumption on sources other than atomic power.

But the support for nuclear is by no means limited to the developing economies of Central Europe: similar ventures are underway in Finland and most recently, Great Britain. On a global scale, there are a vast amount more, with new plants springing out of the ground in Asia, most a notably China where 30 projects are underway.

Russia is also continuing with 10 plants, India with six, and even the United States is currently building four units. Jordan is only just entering the scene, having newly commissioned the country’s first nuclear power plant.

Hungary all for nuclear
The continued and expanding role of nuclear power in Hungary’s future energy portfolio is not only backed by the political elite; the general public is also supportive of the Paks power plant, which still accounts for approximately 40% of the country’s annual electricity consumption.

If there was ever any doubt in the minds of the general public about the value of nuclear energy after the Fukushima disaster, it has all but disappeared, but skimming the related polls, never really emerged at all. A recent survey conducted by TNS Hoffmann and commissioned by state energy group MVM found that 76% of Hungary’s adult population is pro-nuclear.

Just as in the years before, the approval rating of nuclear energy was above 70% among respondents, who cited nuclear power as the cheapest source of electricity, and there is also rising awareness of the virtually zero harmful emissions associated with the use of the technology.

As opposed to many other countries, safety worries concerning the country’s only major nuclear power plant are negligible. The market research found that the majority find nuclear perfectly safe: in fact, 95% of those residing in the direct vicinity of the Paks nuclear power plant said they are completely unconcerned about any prospective risks. 

The Paks facility also boasts outstanding results in the so-called stress tests, disaster simulations that were conducted worldwide after Fukushima to determine whether the facilities have adequate safeguards to prevent disasters in the case of unforeseen circumstances.

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