Leaked EC document calls for loans for new nuclear plants

Friends of the Earth (FoE) has released a European Commission document asking for 2 billion Euros (£1.25 billion) for loans to enable more nuclear power plants to be built in accession countries and the former Soviet Union.

FoE said that the leaked document, which it published on 26 March, was prepared by the Commission for eventual presentation to Finance Ministers to sanction a subsidy for the nuclear power industry. The document has a section called Justification for raising the lending ceiling in which it tries to convince the financial ministers of EU Member States that “the Commission has a powerful financial tool that can be used to influence the nuclear safety beyond the Union borders to the east. The two recent decisions to grant loans for projects in Bulgaria and the Ukraine demonstrate that the instrument can be used as a support for Commission policy in the field. …With the loans being tied in to earlier closure of old units.”

“The proposal is to raise the ceiling from 4,000 million Euros to 6,000 million Euros with an obligation on the Commission to report to the Council when the lending limit reaches 5,500 million Euros,” the document reads. “These new limits would ensure that Euratom [the EC body which ensures a regular and equitable supply of nuclear fuels for Community users] loan applications in the pipeline could continue to be examined and proposed for decision of the Commission if and when ready.”

In the most recent Euratom project, the completion of two reactors in Ukraine, the project was financed in the face of strong criticism by EU governments, energy experts and environmentalists in the Ukraine and the EU, FoE says. The NGO says that none of the Commission’s conditions for the finance can be enforced by the Western project partners and there is no guarantee that Western nuclear safety standards will to be reached, as this is under the jurisdiction of the Ukrainian nuclear authority.

In the case of the only other Euratom loan awarded in a decade, the life extension and upgrade of Kozloduy five and six (see related story), the loan was given to Bulgaria on the condition of early closure of the units one to four of Kozloduy. However the Bulgarian Government is already making it clear that units three and four will not be closed until 2010, despite EC requests to close them by 2006.

“This talk about safety and decommissioning is a kind of PR to divert the attention that the Euratom money is going to be used for the construction of new nuclear power plants,” said Patricia Lorenz of FoE Europe. “This is obvious when we look at the projects that are applying for Euratom loans, like unit two of the Cernavoda nuclear power plant in Romania.”

At the beginning of March the Romanian Government confirmed the application for an Euratom loan for completion of unit two in Cernavoda and announced a plan to build three more units. The electricity produced is intended for export to the EU, FoE says.

“Euratom loans were established decades ago as a subsidy for nuclear power when people believed nuclear power might play a role in the EU’s energy system, it is time to abandon this subsidy for a dying and dangerous industry”, Lorenz said.

An EC spokesperson confirmed the authenticity of the document to edie, but refused to comment on it.

Final approval from the Council of Ministers requires unanimous support from Member States, of which several, especially Austria are against any expansion in the use of nuclear power in Europe.

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