Life span of the Krško Nuclear Power Plant (NEK) extended until 2043
- Ministry of the Environment and Spatial Planning
The Ministry of Environment and Spatial Planning was the first institution in Europe to carry out the demanding task of the environmental impact assessment for the Krško Nuclear Power Plant (NEK). The environmental consent for the extension of the life span of the NEK for an additional 20 years (until 2043) was issued on 13 January 2023 and is currently being served to all parties and accessory participants and to the participating countries.
The Minister of Environment and Spatial Planning and future Minister of Natural Resources and Spatial Planning, Uroš Brežan, noted that the procedure was carried out in accordance with the highest standards and good practices. As part of the environmental impact assessment procedure, all environmental topics have been addressed, and improvements to ensure safety, reduce the likelihood of environmental accidents, resilience to climate change and external factors, and the impact on water resulting from the warming of watercourses in the eastern part of Slovenia have been examined. Since the NEK is located in a seismic area, an important emphasis was also placed on the topic of earthquake preparedness. The Minister of Infrastructure and future Minister for Climate, Environment and Energy, Bojan Kumer, noted that while the environmental consent is important, future steps with which the future operation of the nuclear power plant will be comprehensively addressed are also of key significance. "The use of nuclear energy, especially in light of the current energy crisis, is an important topic for the future generations in our country, which is why the current government has undertaken to thoroughly examine it, while taking into account the opinion of the public," Minister Kumer also noted. "As a responsible nuclear country, we must first and foremost take care of future waste – solve the issue of a low- and intermediate-level radioactive waste repository, finish the construction of a dry storage facility for spent nuclear fuel and conduct a ten-year safety inspection. We believe that we will succeed."
The Chairman of the NEK Management Board, Stanislav Rožman, noted that the entire project was very demanding and complex, with as many as 50 experts being involved. All procedures are in the final phase, including the completion of the statutory periodic safety review. The resulting action plan will be finalised in the middle of the year. He noted that there is no need for physical technological upgrades. The transfer of spent nuclear fuel to dry storage is also being completed. The facility is completed, and testing of the procedure is starting, with the project scheduled to be completed in the middle of the year. With this, all conditions will be fulfilled and all decisions of the administrative authorities for extending the operation of the NEK will be implemented.
At the end, Minister Uroš Brežan thanked all participants in the procedure - providers of opinions, non-governmental organisations and participating countries for their professional, organisational and technical cooperation. As minister, he will extend his gratitude to all participating countries through the diplomatic network of the Republic of Slovenia and, of course, at the first opportunity at the meeting of the Council of Ministers. He especially thanked the management board and team of the NEK, which provided a large professional team and convincing and well-argued documents so that the procedure could be carried out efficiently both at home and internationally.
The instructions for environmental impact assessments to extend the life span of the NEK were prepared by an international working group of as many as thirty countries, headed by Germany and the United Kingdom. The group was founded at the time when Slovenia presided over the Convention on Environmental Impact Assessment in a Transboundary Context (Espoo Convention). The working group examined all possible legal and substantive situations and the delicate relationship between environmental assessments, which include safety and management to ensure all technical aspects of security. By carrying out an environmental impact assessment, which was also called for by non-governmental organisations (Greenpeace, the Association of Ecological Movements of Slovenia - ZEG), Slovenia acted in accordance with international, European and Slovenian regulations.
By carrying out the procedure and issuing the environmental consent, Slovenia acted in accordance with the Convention on Environmental Impact Assessment in a Transboundary Context and the latest United Nations/UNECE guidelines for environmental assessments in relation to life span extension. All four neighbouring countries – Croatia, Austria, Italy and Hungary, as well as Germany participated in the cross-border consultation.
Between October 2021 and October 2022, consultations were organised with the public, ministries and organisations of these five European countries, technical consultations were held with groups of experts and an additional inspection of the state of the NEK was carried out with the delegations of Italy and Austria. Slovenia also acted in accordance with the Environmental Protection Act (ZVO-2), as the rights of an accessory participant were given to all interested non-governmental organisations.
Important role of non-governmental organisations
The Ministry was prompted to carry out an environmental impact assessment by a lawsuit filed by non-governmental organisations in Slovenia, with which they requested the annulment of the decision of the Environment Agency (ARSO) that an environmental impact assessment need not be carried out in order to extend the life span. As a result, the ARSO issued a new decision saying that extending the life span of the NEK could have significant impacts, which should be examined in the Environmental Impact Report.
A similar decision was made by the European Court of Justice when, due to Greenpeace's lawsuit regarding the Duel 1 and Duel 2 nuclear power plants in Belgium, it examined such a case for the first time and decided that an environmental impact assessment should be carried out.
Key topics of environmental assessment
As part of the environmental impact assessment, all environmental topics were addressed, and most of the discussion was about:
- earthquake preparedness
- improvements to ensure safety
- reducing the likelihood of environmental accidents
- resilience to climate change and external factors
- impact on waters resulting from the warming of watercourses in the eastern part of Slovenia.
The environmental consent notes that NEK has prepared the Programme of measures to ensure nuclear safety and carried out a series of major investments to improve safety, e.g. dry storage for spent fuel (construction was completed at the end of 2022, and the first campaign to relocate spent fuel from the pool to dry storage follows this year) and many other safety upgrades.
During the environmental impact assessment, all the findings of the Nuclear Safety Administration were taken into account and presented to the public. The Nuclear Safety Administration has been conducting periodic safety reviews every ten years for the entire period of operation. These end with an administrative decision regarding nuclear safety. The Nuclear Safety Administration regularly monitors how the NEK complies with all international recommendations and makes improvements. It finds that the NEK is in a technical condition that ensures that there are no safety risks during normal operation.
Scientific modelling of accident events have been developed and these prove that if all the preventive measures that the NEK already provides today were implemented there would be no significant impacts.
The work related to supervision and possible technical improvements does not end with the issuance of the environmental consent but will take place throughout the extended operation by means of two extensive periodic safety reviews in 2023 and 2033.
In accordance with EU Directive 97/2014 on the assessment of the effects of certain public and private projects on the environment and the ZVO-2 and the Decree on activities affecting the environment that require an environmental impact assessment, the NEK must carry out a decommissioning assessment three years before the end of operation.