A tectonic fault line runs under the site of the planned Paks II nuclear plant in Hungary. Moreover, a geologist found traces of earthquakes that happened less than ten thousand years ago and reached the surface, right next to the site of the nuclear plant. This means that the site of the nuclear plant and its planned expansion do not comply with the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) seismic safety recommendations. The detailed results of the latest geological inspection of the site, assessing earthquake risks, were kept hidden until now.
According to the IAEA seismic safety recommendations (PDF) that were codified into Hungarian law in 2011, it is forbidden to build a nuclear plant in an area that has a tectonic fault line that produced surface movement in the past one hundred thousand years in its 10-kilometer radius.
According to a 2016 study commissioned by MVM Paks II Zrt., obtained by Atlatszo, several traces of earthquakes reaching the surface in the past 10 thousand years were found at the site of the Paks nuclear plant.
The safety of Paks has been debated for decades because in the beginning of the 1970s when the decision about the site of the nuclear plant was made, there was no real geological study made. The Soviet leadership simply pointed to the area, and that was the end of it.
But the planned expansion of the nuclear plant announced in January 2014 required new geological inspection. This cost more than HUF 8 billion, but some of the results were kept secret from the public. And the results of the assessment were closely managed by the state and they are professionally not well founded.
We filed a request with MVM Paks II. Zrt., asking them to give us the detailed results of the geological inspection of the nuclear plant sites. From the documents we received, it became clear that the sites were greenlighted despite the fact that they do not meet IAEA requirements: a fault line that is considered tectonically active runs under the sites and traces of earthquakes that happened less than 10 thousand years ago were found near the sites on the surface.
Hiding te results of the research
To sum it up: the above-mentioned IAEA security recommendations became part of Hungarian nuclear regulations. The management of the nuclear plant must prove to the National Atomic Energy Authority (OHA) that they comply with all the regulations. In March 2017, after years of geological and geophysical inspections, OHA gave its blessing to the site of the two new reactors of the Paks II nuclear plant expansion. Construction might start as early as next year.
But the detailed documentation of the geological research that served as the basis for the permit for the new nuclear plant was not public, the decision-making process of the authorities was not transparent and there were no independent inspections to check the results – says Energiaklub, and NGO specializing in nuclear energy issues.
Energiaklub was not allowed to inspect the results of the research, and Hungarian MEP Benedek Jávor was also denied access to the material. He received 200 pages of the correspondence between Budapest and the European Council about the new nuclear plant, but details of weather and earthquake risk were redacted from the documents citing business interests. Jávor says that this ‘does not make sense and it is unacceptable’ and suspects that the Hungarian government is trying hard to keep something secret.
A geological study arrives at Atlatszo offices
A source provided Atlatszo with a (not final) manuscript of geologist Árpád Magyari’s 2016 study of the site of the nuclear plant. He concludes that within a 10-kilometer radius of the site earthquakes of magnitude 5 or greater happened less than ten thousand years ago. His recommendations include more research at the nuclear plant site.
The study also mentions earthquakes within a 3-kilometer radius of the site that happened less than ten thousand years ago and also raises the question whether authorities have enough information about the geological characteristics of the site to be compliant with IAEA recommendations. This remark clearly questions whether the site is compliant with security recommendations – but it is missing from the final version of the document.
We reached out to Magyari, who, according to his LinkedIn profile, is a senior geologist with the Hungarian state oil company MOL. We asked him whether he has ever published this study and if Atlatszo could do so. He sent us a short answer saying that the study was commissioned by the Paks II project, he has never published it and has no right to do so.
2500 tons of steel
The safety of the nuclear plant’s site has been debated by geologists for a very long time in scientific journals. And it is not a theoretical exercise: if it can be scientifically proven that there were surface movements caused by earthquakes in the 10-kilometer radius of the site in the past one hundred thousand years, then the Paks II site does not fulfil the legal requirements for new nuclear plant sites because there is a realistic chance of an earthquake that can damage the facilities.
According to scientific papers and Magyari’s research at the time of the planning of the original nuclear plant, in the beginning of the 1970s, there were no national requirements for the geological evaluation of the site. Economic and political arguments were the most important, trumping questions of safety. Planning was done according to loose Soviet regulations. And even IAEA only started to publish its earthquake safety guidelines in 1979.
It was only between 1986 and 1996 that questions of earthquake safety were seriously considered in Hungary. Real geological inspection thus only started in the 1990s, and these found young fault lines very near to the nuclear plant. One of these fault lines (“Dunaszentgyörgy-Harta”) practically runs under the nuclear plant, and another fault line (“Kapos vonal”) connected to that is considered tectonically active because earthquakes alongside that line were recorded in human history.
However, all of this research was influenced by the fact that they were commissioned by the nuclear plant or national authorities that had a role in running it. In 1992, for example, researchers tried to prove the existence of the fault lines by digging and they did find several gaps in the rocks, but researchers concluded that those were not created by earthquakes but by the drying out and disintegration of the surface – nothing to see here!
These were communicated as reassuring results, but soon after the geological evaluation (between 1998-2002) there was major construction in the nuclear plant in order to make it more resilient in the event of an earthquake: the building was strengthened with 2500 tons of steel.
The Paks II expansion plan needs new studies
The plans for the expansion of the nuclear plant disturbed the above-described status quo because the new reactors have to comply with the much more strict IAEA recommendations and local laws. This means that the site had to be inspected again. The first drilling was done in May 2015 and the whole research cost HUF 8045 million. Árpád Magyari, whose study we quoted above, was one of the subcontractors of the research.
The final results of this research, as we have mentioned above, were not made public and were not shown to people requesting to see them. Only a shortened, 197-page document was published on the web page of MVM Paks II Zrt. among the documentation of the new nuclear plant’s site.
Átlátszó requested these documents and received them on 6 DVD discs. We are now publishing all these documents and making them available for everyone:
We asked geologists and experts to read and interpret the documents. They said that the experts who did the research did not hide their opinion about the earthquake safety issues of the planned nuclear sites, even though those who commissioned the research had very clear expectations about the results. And this pressure made sure that the experts writing the studies did not stress those above-mentioned opinions very explicitly, either.
For example, if we look at Árpád Magyari’s manuscript that we were given by a source and compare it to the final version we got from MVM Paks II Zrt, we can see that the final text was fine-tuned. We were told that problems were pointed out by other scientists as well, but all their arguments were disregarded by authorities that had an interest in building the new nuclear reactors.
Thus the panel of six researchers who were asked to summarize the results of the geological inspections concluded that the site was safe. To prove this, among other things, they said that they did not find traces of ‘repeated, significant’ tectonic shifts, deformations or dislocations at the site in the past one hundred thousand years.
When we asked geologists about this they told Atlatszo that they could not really make sense of the words ‘significant’ or ‘repeated’ in this context. They called it word play that was used by the panel of six so that they could conclude that the site was safe even though there is a tectonically active fault line running under it and the surface shows traces of earthquakes in the past ten thousand years.
We are not implying that the Paks nuclear plant could be destroyed by an earthquake any day. But the site of the planned Paks II reactors, according to scientific research, does not comply with IAEA seismic safety recommendations and thus with Hungarian law.
If the government intends to do so, this scientific fact could be a legal basis – claiming vis maior – for canceling the Russian-Hungarian bilateral contract about the nuclear plant expansion.
Written by Tamás Bodoky
You can read the original story in Hungarian here.
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