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    Copyright: The following text is for personal information only. Any professional use or publication in written or electronic form is subject to an agreement with AIM, 17 rue Rebeval, F-75019 Paris, France

    SAT, 02 SEP 2000 00:25:29 GMT

    Slovenia and Croatia

    Nuclear Waste in the Heart of the Problem

    It seems that negotiations between official Ljubljana and Zagreb about the destiny of Krsko Nuclear Power Plant will go on even after it is shut down

    AIM Ljubljana, August 29, 2000

    “Negotiations about the nuclear power plant will be completed very quickly, maybe by the end of August”. This announcement was made to Croatian media by Slovenian minister Lojze Peterle in the beginning of the month. The statement is almost identical to the one uttered by Peterle’s predecessor Boris Frlec in August 1998, who at the time resolutely claimed that an agreement would be reached within three months. In the meantime, foreign ministers have changed, some of them, like Zoran Thaler, Dimitrij Rupel and the current Lojze Peterle, have even been in and out of office a few times – but the problem of the nuclear power plant in Krsko (NEK) has remained unsolved during all these years. And all things considered – that is how it will remain in the foreseeable future.

    The problem of NEK has a legal, a political and an economic dimension. As concerning its co-owners, official Ljubljana and Zagreb have had a dispute about the ownership, control and price of electric power ever since these two former republics of SFRY became independent; since dissolution of former Yugoslavia official Vienna has demanded that its new neighbours in the south shut down the nuclear power plant with the explanation that it is dangerous for the whole region; one should also add the completely unsolved problem of storage of highly radioactive waste. And that is exactly the main cause of the controversy between Slovenia and Croatia, although the ministers in charge and the governments of both states do not lay stress on it publicly, “in order not to disturb” the public. In other words, NEK will soon be locked down, but even after that it will be no minor burden for its owners, nor will that be the end of the matter; the neighbours will for sure continue to quarrel about NEK for decades, since it will still be a risky storage of radioactive waste.

    It is interesting that what has been left of the “Greens” in independent Slovenia has not blown up a storm about Krsko power plant for years, which was not the case at the time of former Yugoslavia when the campaign against nuclear power from Krsko was at its height. For Slovenian economy, the power coming from NEK was very important, so it seems that the “Greens” accepted the “state-building” position after it had won independence. Besides, it was unpopular to side with Austria which was the only one that demanded urgent shutting down of NEK. Agreeing to the argument of the “state-building reason” led to stagnation of green parties which have been crumbling down for ten years already, annoying the public with trials and haggling about the money arriving from the state budget. The best indication of the reputation of Slovenian green parties are public debates at which duels between the greens and members of the nuclear lobby almost regularly end with triumphs of those speaking in favour of nuclear power plants.

    “Local protectors of nature are interested more in the procedure for purchasing new boilers than in the environment, so that the public debate titled ‘Nuclear Power – No Thank You!’ ended with the conclusion ‘Nuclear Power – Thanks for Having You!’ launched by members of the society of nuclear experts”, a disappointed journalist comments one of the latest gatherings on the topic. A paradoxical situation was created – although a representative of a known Greenpeace organisation Herald Kreuter listed arguments about the danger nuclear power implies, at the end of the debate the public inclined towards the opinion of Andrej Sitar, member of the society of Slovenian nuclear power experts who courageously claimed that he would “store nuclear waste even in his own garden”, and when highly radioactive one is concerned that he would “bury it a little deeper” into the ground.

    It is evident that for the time being Sitar & company will not bury sapcophaguses with nuclear waste in either their own or someone else’s backyards, because used nuclear fuel in power stations, Krsko inclusive, is stored in pools made for the purpose. The problem is that the storing facility for highly radioactive waste in NEK was designed for fuel used until the year 2000. Since utilisation of fuel in NEK has lately increased, the existing facilities should be sufficient for normal operation of the power station at least until the year 2004. Besides, the pool for storing highly radioactive fuel in NEK was expanded so it should meet the needs at least by the end of operation of the nuclear station which is planned to be also around 2004.

    It is clear that for Slovenia, like for other countries which have a small number of nuclear power stations, the biggest problem is that there are no special “dry” storing facilities for highly radioactive waste. Experts inclined towards clean environment find proof in this fact that nuclear power is unacceptable. “The fact that we have no such storing facilities confirm that such power is already unacceptable. Real problems will emerge here in 50 years after Krsko nuclear power plant had been shut down for a long time, but expenses of storing fuel will constantly increase. I see no possibility for us in Slovenia to construct a storing area for highly radioactive waste”, warns Leo Seserko, one of the first supporters of the green movement in Slovenia and member of the Green Alternative. His words are corroborated by protests of the citizens which intensify whenever news get around that the authorities have determined a new location for storing radioactive waste. That is why the only longterm solution considered as acceptable in Slovenia is foundation of a joint European storing facility for radioactive waste.

    This is still just an idea for which no specific plan has been made yet, and even if it is carried out, this solution could be very expensive. That is why nuclear power plants which do not operate any more still serve as “contemporary” storing facilities for nuclear waste. In neighbouring Italy, for example, all four nuclear power plants shut down more than ten years ago, despite promises that they would be dismantled, still stand intact because used fuel continues to be stored in their pools. This is understandable to a certain extent; one cannot expect any government with a term in office of several years to issue a permit for storing waste which will continue to disintegrate for thousands of years. Because even in case of waste of low radioactivity which is used in hospitals and various institutes every day, the period of disintegration is about 300 years!

    That is why it is no wonder that negotiations on Krsko nuclear power plant cannot move from the standstill. The question of nuclear waste is especially important for Slovenia which keeps stressing the necessity of Croatia sharing the expenses of dismantling of the plant and of nuclear waste. Croatia, on the other hand, does not wish to take this obligation. The list of announced but failed agreements is long. In 1998, for instance, Croatia took the obligation it would provide half of the money needed for modernisation of the nuclear power plant. It did not pay a single dollar, however. The transmission line from NEK towards Croatia was turned off, and after that the then foreign ministers Mate Granic and Boris Frlec hastily reached an agreement in Mokrice castle that the two states would solve the dispute within three months’ time. Two years have gone by and there is still no agreement. In June last year the then Croatian prime minister Zlatko Matesa declared that almost “all principled and fundamental issues which lead to an agreement” have been resolved. Main principles of the agreement had already been incorporated into the written general agreement. And then the agreement on NEK came to a standstill again.

    Finally, the core of the dispute between Slovenia and Croatia about Krsko power plant is neither in the ownership, nor in the choice of equipment, nor in the price of electric power. The essential issue is what should be done with the nuclear power plant and how to go about it after it stops operation, when Krsko nuclear power plant becomes a useless burden for national economies. And this will be very soon. So, therefore, as time goes by, it is becoming clear that the agreement on Krsko nuclear power plant is in fact revolving around tons of useless and dangerous nuclear waste. This agreement is needed by Slovenia and not by Croatia. Croatia can live quite decently without electric power from Krsko, so that imposing of the said agreement is of no use to it, and in the longterm it can just cost it a lot.

    Igor Mekina

    (AIM Ljubljana)