Szijjarto: Paks upgrade ‘guarantee’ for competitiveness

The upgrade of Hungary's nuclear power plant in Paks will stand as a "long-term guarantee" of Hungary's competitiveness, Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said after meeting Alexei Likhachev, the head of Russian nuclear energy company Rosatom, in Sochi on Monday.

At the meeting held with the chief executive of the general contractor of the Paks plant expansion, Szijjarto reviewed the status of the construction project, the foreign ministry said in a statement.

The upgrade would secure Hungary’s electricity supply for decades to come, Szijjarto said, adding that the Paks plant would supply 70 percent of the country’s demand and provide “a great degree of independence from the occasionally insane changes in the international energy market as well as from skyrocketing prices”.

Szijjarto said works on the project were nearing another “milestone” as one of the melt traps, a key safety element in nuclear plants, has been completed and is expected to be shipped to Hungary in the second quarter of the year after the necessary tests.

Meanwhile, the minister welcomed that soil consolidation by German, American and other subcontractors was under way at the site.

“Those milestones … forecast that we can pour the first concrete by the end of the year and that the two new reactor blocks can start operations early in the next decade,” he added.

Speaking at the Atomexpo nuclear energy trade fair later in the day, Szijjarto called for nuclear energy to remain a field of international cooperation, lamenting that the field was riddled with ideological debates. “As long as infrastructure determines energy cooperation, ideology should have nothing to do with [it],” he said.

He said that whereas nuclear energy had been “a victim of ideology” recently, Europe had “overcome” discrimination, “thanks mostly to the fact that France is a pro-nuclear country”, he said. “We were able to win our debates in Europe and make it recognised that generating electricity in a nuclear way is sustainable, safe and cheap,” he said.

Szijjarto said that severing nuclear cooperation between Europe and Russia “would be another dent in the continent’s competitiveness”, putting the EU’s green goals at risk.

He said criticism of Hungary on the issue was “hypocritical” as Rosatom was working with sub-contractors from the US, Germany, France, Switzerland, Austria and Sweden at the Paks site.

“This means … on the corporate level at least, decision-makers have not lost their common sense yet,” Szijjarto said, adding that Hungary would not adopt EU sanctions against the Russian nuclear sector, as doing so would harm Hungary’s interests.

Banning nuclear cooperation would also be “strange”, as Russia was also the largest Uranium supplier to the US last year, exporting ore worth some 1 billion dollars in 2023, he added.

“I do hope that in the future rationality and common sense will prevail … and the nuclear industry will be exempt from ideological debates. I hope that we will only concentrate on professional and scientific issues…”

In Sochi, Szijjarto also met representatives of the Serbian, Turkish, Iraqi and Belorussian government.

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