German MEP Rebecca Harms: Bulgaria Woefully Ill-equipped to Handle Nuclear Waste

Interview |Author: Ivan Dikov | February 23, 2010, Tuesday // 20:03|  views

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Interview with Rebecca Harms, German Member of the European Parliament from the Greens/EFA Group.

Harms is a member of the EP Committee on Industry, Research, and Energy, and is its rapporteur for the additional EU decommissioning aid of EUR 300 M that the EC and the EU Council decided to allocate to Bulgaria over the shutting down of reactors 1-4 of the Kozloduy Nuclear Plant.

On Tuesday, MEP Harms presented her report to the Committee, which spurred negative reactions by Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov and Bulgarian MEPs.

Your report on EU’s nuclear decommissioning aid for Bulgaria mentions Bulgaria’s energy dependence on Russia. Is this the most serious issue for Bulgaria in the nuclear energy field?

My report focuses on a couple of things. First of all, I agree there is a need to help Bulgaria financially because of the common decision to close down reactors 1, 2, 3, and 4 of the Kozloduy power plant.

Second, I am trying to start a discussion about how to use the funds which will be transferred to Bulgaria over the next three years because of this decision to close down the Kozloduy reactors.

Third, there is one proposal in my report which is new, and which shows a different approach than the approach we have followed so far in the European debate.

I support the first proposal of the EC to use EUR 180 M out of the EUR 300 M which will be transferred to Bulgaria before 2013 for direct decommissioning activities at Kozloduy. There is a lot of work to be paid for.

But I wanted to start a discussion about the second proposal of the Commission – which suggests that the second part of this sum, about EUR 120 M, should be used to continue to finance projects for energy efficiency, efficient grids and also renewable energy.

As I was preparing this report on decommissioning funds for Kozloduy, I discovered that Bulgaria has nothing prepared in terms of a real nuclear waste strategy. Neither initial, nor final storage facilities are available or financed.

I discovered also that the reason cited for sending spent nuclear fuel to Russia for reprocessing is that there are no funds for a nuclear storage facility or any other alternative.

Would you say that the benefits of using the EUR 120 M in question for setting up a nuclear storage facility would outweigh the benefits of using it for renewable or green energy?

I explicitly said today that there is really a need for greater energy efficiency in Bulgaria because Bulgaria is one of the worst performers in energy efficiency; so there is a lot to do there; the situation is similar with renewable energy sources.

However, there are other funds from the EU that can be used for those purposes. Also, to make a real difference it would be necessary to change the whole Bulgarian energy strategy in the direction of renewable energy because so far my impression is that Bulgaria is still on the old track, i.e. that it is very much in favor of nuclear and coal energy.

Almost immediately after you presented your report at the EP Committee on Industry, Research, and Energy, the Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov and some of your Bulgarian EP colleagues reacted very strongly to your ideas. Why do you think that is? In their view, the agreement that Bulgaria has with Russia for reprocessing nuclear waste is very good.

In the first place, I like it very much that they are pushing in this debate for renewable energy and energy efficiency. I wish this was not only the case when it comes to the EU decommissioning funds for the Kozloduy NPP.

But I think that this export of spent nuclear fuel to Russia for reprocessing is a very dangerous way to handle nuclear waste. I stand for greater safety and security in the nuclear field, and for me this should be a forbidden path.

The safety standards in Russia – and perhaps also in Bulgaria – are not acceptable, and then there is also the question of what Bulgaria plans to do when the nuclear waste from the Kozloduy plant comes back from Russia. What does Bulgaria plan to do with it?!

One of your Bulgarian colleagues, MEP Vladimir Urutchev, warned that if your ideas for using part of the decommissioning aid for building a nuclear waste facility is approved, this could boost the voices in Bulgaria for the reboot of the four shut reactors. Do you think this warning is legitimate?

I think this is not a very convincing argument. I think that on the level of financial support, the EU has done a lot to help Bulgaria after the closure of the four reactors in Kozloduy. More than EUR 860 M have been allocated to help Bulgaria. I think this is a very good financial solution.

You are touching upon the issue of Bulgaria’s dependence and close relations with Russia in the energy field but if one takes a look at Germany, it becomes obvious that German companies are working very closely with Gazprom and Russia in general. Isn’t such criticism for Bulgaria then a rather obvious hypocricy?

I am a realistic politician, and I have never taken a stand against the energy cooperation with Russia. There is a need to import natural gas from Russia to the EU. But there is also a need to reduce natural gas consumption in the EU, and we should be using the gas in a different way.

As far as nuclear energy is concerned, my concerns are that quite different. I think the reprocessing of nuclear waste is a very dangerous part of the nuclear cycle, and that it should be forbidden.

Germany phased out of all nuclear reprocessing treaties with France years ago, and we are now getting back the waste which was reprocessed in France. It is arriving year after year to my home region so we are feeling the burden of the reprocessing in France.

I would really recommend to the Bulgarians not to underestimate the risks of that, and to use the opportunities presented by decommissioning aid in order to start taking care of this problem quite soon, and not to deny that Bulgaria is far away from solutions for its nuclear waste.

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Tags: EU, decommissioning aid, Kozloduy NPP, Nuclear Power Plant, nuclear waste facility, Russia, Greens, MEPs, Rebecca Harms, German


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