Hungary’s watchdog withholds nuclear expansion permits, requests more information

A general view of the turbine hall of reactor unit four of the Paks nuclear power plant in Paks, 120 km (75 miles) east of Budapest, March 21, 2011. REUTERS / Laszlo Balogh (HUNGARY ) / File Photo

BUDAPEST, Oct.1 (Reuters) – The Hungarian nuclear watchdog has suspended licenses for two new reactors at the Paks nuclear power plant pending further information from officials of the Russian-led project, further hampering a planned expansion beset by years of delays.

The government wants to more than double the capacity of the two gigawatt plant with two new 1.2 GW VVER reactors. A € 10 billion ($ 11.6 billion) loan from Moscow is financing the bulk of the € 12.5 billion project, led by Russian state atomic energy company Rosatom.

Attributed to Rosatom in 2014 without a call for tenders and often cited as an example of the warm ties between Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and Russian President Vladimir Putin that pissed off the West, the project was initially delayed by a lengthy review of the European Union focused on its funding.

After a 15-month review of the construction documentation for the new block, the Hungarian Atomic Energy Authority said on Thursday it would seek additional information from the company managing the project, Paks II Atomeromu Zrt, before granting his approval.

“For the authority to be assured that all conditions are fully met, additional assessments and analyzes are needed in certain areas,” he said in a statement posted on his website.

Without specifying further, he said he was also taking into account the recommendations of a parallel review by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Hungary changed its nuclear safety protocols to allow some work to start before the entire expansion – initially slated to start in 2018 and with the first block due to be completed in 2025 – gets the regulatory green light .

It was not clear to what extent the latest setback could delay construction of a project that is still in its early stages and on which Russia has agreed this year to delay payments by five years.

($ 1 = 0.8634 euros)

Reporting by Gergely Szakacs; edited by John Stonestreet

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