Paks upgrade applying strictest safety, environmental standards, minister says

The upgrade of Hungary's Paks nuclear plant applies the most stringent safety and environmental protection standards, the minister of foreign affairs and trade said on Monday.

The two new reactor blocks being built will be protected by a doubly reinforced concrete wall structure capable of withstanding even the most severe external pressures, Peter Szijjarto told parliament’s sustainable development committee, according to a ministry statement.

“The two new blocks will be absolutely ‘Fukushima-proof’,” the minister said, explaining that the reinforced concrete structure protecting the nuclear facility was capable of withstanding external pressures even as big as a plane crash.

Initial groundwork is under way at the site, and construction permits have been obtained for several buildings, Szijjarto said. Construction of equipment with long production times is also ongoing, and a German-American joint venture is building the diaphragm wall, he added.

“I’d like to assure you that everything happening in Paks adheres to the most stringent safety and environmental protection standards,” he told the committee.

In addition to the 94 Hungarian companies involved in the project, there are American, French, German, Swedish and Austrian sub-contractors working at the construction site, he said.

Szijjarto said measures aimed at improving competitiveness and environmental protection needed to go hand-in-hand, arguing that upsetting the balance between those two objectives could do more harm than good.

He noted that Hungary’s National Energy and Climate Strategy calls for a 50 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 compared with 1990 levels. Emissions, he added, had fallen by 32 percent so far, while the country was achieving “huge economic records” each year.

Hungary is one of just 20 countries that has managed to increase its GDP while reducing its harmful emissions, Szijjarto said.

Meanwhile, the minister underlined the importance of guaranteeing energy security even during the country’s transition to green energy. “This requires that we treat the green cause as a grounded issue rather than some sort of political and ideological monopoly,” he said.

Szijjarto said European Union member states were set to see a 50 percent increase in their electricity consumption by 2030.

He said nuclear energy was the only source that allowed for a safe, cheap, and sustainable way of producing energy while helping the country to stay relatively independent of the fluctuations of international energy markets.

“There’s a huge debate about this in the European Union . with member states divided.” he said. Szijjarto said that while Hungary wanted to keep the debate rational, most of the issues raised were political and ideological in nature.

Fully 65 percent of Hungary’s energy production is carbon neutral and 80 percent of that is provided by nuclear energy, Szijjarto said.

He said the ecological footprint of nuclear plants relative to their lifespans was no greater than that of carbon-neutral technologies. Also, the upgraded Paks plant will enable carbon dioxide emissions to be reduced by 17 million tonnes and gas use by 3.5 billion cubic metres annually, he added, noting that Hungary’s transport sector produces an annual 12 million tonnes in CO2 emissions, while the country’s forested areas absorb 6 million tonnes of CO2 a year.

Concerning solar power, Szijjarto said the capacity of solar panels operating in Hungary reached 4,000 MW last year, accounting for 13 percent of electricity production, among the three best ratios in the EU.

Solar power capacity has reached 5,400 MW by October this year, with over 2,100 MW generated by home solar panels, the minister said.

He said this meant that Hungary was on pace to reach a solar power capacity of 6,000 MW well before the original target year of 2030, and that it could also move up its goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050 to 2040.

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