The Austrian environmental authority confirms elevated earthquake risk at the Paks NPP site
The Paks NPP and the site of the planned Paks II NPP are not suitable for the construction of a nuclear power plant according to Hungarian legislation and international recommendations. This is the conclusion reached by experts commissioned by the Austrian Environmental Protection Agency (Umweltbundesamt) after analysing data from a geological survey comissioned by MVM Paks II Zrt. in preparation for the Paks NPP expansion. The detailed results of the research, which were published by Átlátszó in 2017, have since been reported by several experts in Hungary as not supporting the official conclusion, and even strongly questioning the suitability of the site, as they show a fault line capable of displacement above ground, which runs right under the NPP site. Experts commissioned by the Austrian Environmental Protection Agency have now taken a similar view in a study published on Monday, the executive summary of which is reproduced below.
On 27 October 2016, the company MVM Paks II. Zrt. applied for a site license for the new nuclear power plant (NPP) Paks II that should be constructed on a site next to the existing Hungarian NPP Paks. For this purpose, the license applicant had initiated a comprehensive geological exploration program that resulted in a Geological Site Report, written by a multitudinous group of experts, and a Site Safety Report, compiled by MVM Paks II. Zrt. on the basis of the Geological Site Report.
The Geological Site Report identified a system of structurally related, SW-NE-striking, active fault zones in the near region of the Paks II site including the Németkér-, Bonyhád-, Kapos- and Dunaszentgyörgy-Harta fault zone with the latter directly passing below the Paks II site and the existing NPP. Proofs of active seismogenic faulting at the named faults include faulted and offset Quaternary sediments (extensively shown in geophysical, geological and borehole profiles), geomorphological features indicative for surface displacement (fault scarps, displaced aeolian landforms, stream patterns) and paleoseismological evidence of strong earthquakes from about 14 locations. Out of these data, the results from the paleoseismological trench Pa-21-II, excavated at a fault branch of the Dunaszentgyörgy-Harta fault zone about 0.7 km from to the existing NPP Paks and 1 km from the Paks II site, are most remarkable. The trench uncovered 12 surface-breaking faults that apparently formed during two separate surface-rupturing earthquakes at about 20,000 and 19,000 years before present. Structures include a negative flower structure that, according to authors of this study, is indicative for about 0.3–0.4 m horizontal surface displacement during a M≥6 earthquake.
The authors therefore conclude that the Dunaszentgyörgy-Harta fault zone, passing through the Paks II site, is both an active and a capable fault.
According to the IAEA, active faults are tectonic structures that moved in the recent geologic past and that are expected to move within a future time span of concern relevant for the safety of a nuclear installation. A capable fault, in addition, has a significant potential for displacement at or near the ground surface. Notably, fault capability is a site exclusion criterion for the siting of new NPPs according to national Hungarian regulations. The Hungarian Governmental Decree No. 118 of 2011, requirement 22.214.171.1240 states that, If the potential occurrence of a permanent surface displacement on the site cannot be reliably excluded by scientific evidences, and the displacement may affect the nuclear facility, the site shall be qualified as unsuitable.
The evidence of active faulting in the site vicinity of Paks II and the evidence of capable faulting at the Dunaszentgyörgy-Harta fault zone next to the Paks II site is not fully and/or not correctly reflected in the Site Safety Report compiled by MVM Paks II Zrt. The Site Safety Report omits relevant data of the Geological Site Report such as virtually all paleoseismological data obtained from the near region of the site, and shows a location and width of the Dunaszentgyörgy-Harta fault zone at the site that differs from the data in the Geological Site ReNPP port. Finally, despite accepting evidence of Quaternary faulting along the Dunaszentgyörgy-Harta fault zone in the area close to the NPP site in general, the Site Safety Report does not include a comprehensive and unbiased presentation of the paleoseismological data obtained from the trench Pa-21-II. The conclusion of the Site Safety Report that “seismic events occurring in the research area on a timescale of one hundred thousand years are not able to significantly displace the surface, i.e. the fault planes cannot be considered capable” is not in line with the geological evidence described in the Geological Site Report. The contradictions between the Site Safety Report on the one hand, and the geological observations and the conclusions in the Geological Site Report, on the other hand, is, in opinion of the authors of this study, contrary to the principles of good scientific practice.
In spite of the evidence of the above-mentioned geological structures and the resulting safety-relevant issues with respect to fault capability, and in spite of the potential conflict with the requirement to reliably exclude the potential of occurrence of a permanent surface displacement by scientific evidence, the Hungarian Atomic Energy Agency (HAEA) granted the site license for the NPP Paks II on 30 June 2017.
Unlike the site license decision, the authors of this study conclude that the geological and geophysical data documented in the Geological Site Report and the Site Safety Report are not sufficient to reliably exclude the potential of a permanent surface displacement at the site as required by the Hungarian Governmental Decree No. 118 of 2011, requirement 126.96.36.1990. Although successfully exposing several branch faults of the Dunaszentgyörgy-Harta fault zone, the 85 m long paleoseismological trench Pa-21-II is regarded insufficient to provide a reliable and comprehensive assessment of the potential of fault capability of all branches of the evidentially active fault zone that extends over a width of about 1 km in the subsurface of the existing NPP as well as large parts of the Paks II site.
The authors conclude that, on the contrary, the paleoseismological data derived from the trench Pa-21-II next to the site confirm the existence of capable faults in the site vicinity of Paks II. These capable faults are part of the Dunaszentgyörgy-Harta fault zone, strike into the site and show evidence of repeated and significant surface displacements that occurred during the last circa 20,000 years.
This study therefore concludes that the Hungarian Governmental Decree No. 118 of 2011 on nuclear safety requirements, requirement 188.8.131.520, is apparently not met. The potential occurrence of a permanent surface displacement on the site cannot be reliably excluded by scientific evidences. The Paks II site should therefore be deemed unsuitable.
The full paper by Kurt Decker and Esther Hintersberger is available here (PDF).
Hungarian expert backs up the evidence
As Atlatszo reported in April, there is another, recently published geophysical study analyzing the same geological exploration data of the Paks-II nuclear power plant site. The Hungarian study also concludes that the geological and geophysical survey carried out in 2016 for HUF 8 billion did not reveal all the details of the truth about an active tectonic fault line right under the planned nuclear reactors. Surface geophysical surveys within the site were either only able to identify the uppermost thin layer disturbed by human activity, or had nothing to do with the main question to be answered, or did not evaluate or interpret the alarming results obtained during the measurements. The author also undertook a missed evaluation of a series of measurements performed in the official study.
A recently published geophysical study analyzing the geological exploration data of the Paks-II nuclear power plant site concludes that the geological and geophysical survey carried out recently for HUF 8 billion did not reveal all the details of the truth about an active tectonic fault line right under the planned nuclear reactors.
On 28 April, Austrian, German and French MEPs submitted a written question to the European Commission on the subject. The petition states:
“According to the information available, a significant discrepancy has emerged from the location approval process for the Paks II nuclear plant between the results obtained by baseline studies on the earthquake risk of the site and the official application submitted by the MVM Paks II company for site approval by the Hungarian nuclear supervisory authority. This is because findings from the basic paleoseismic data collected were omitted from the application which suggest that the active Dunaszentgyörgy-Harta (DH) fault runs beneath the Paks site, and this has been corroborated by a new study.”
The current recommendations of the IAEA and Hungarian Government Regulation 118/2011. (VII. 11.) state that no nuclear plant may be constructed on a fault designated as active. Considering this, the Green party MEPs ask the Commission:
- 1. Does the Commission share the view that the DH fault is active?
- 2. What is the Commission’s assessment of the omission of paleoseismic findings on the DH fault from the baseline studies in the application submitted by the MVM Paks II company, and will the Commission arrange for an independent evaluation of the Hungarian location approval process to take place?
- 3. Will the Commission take action to ensure that the path of the DH fault under the planned construction site is verified in a transparent manner when the excavation pit for Paks II is dug out?
In the Hungarian Parliament, MPs Olivio Kocsis-Cake (Párbeszéd), Bertalan Tóth (MSZP) and Ágnes Vadai (DK) asked János Süli, the minister responsible for the Paks expansion, and Prime Minister Viktor Orbán about the issue. Olivio Kocsis-Cake wanted to know “why the site licence was issued in derogation of the earthquake safety regulations”. Bertalan Tóth and Ágnes Vadai submitted similar requests to János Süli and Viktor Orbán.
In response to the MPs’ submissions, the minister responsible for the matter continues to stress that “the project will be implemented in accordance with the strictest international standards and recommendations”, and goes on to detail the geological investigations carried out to obtain the site licence. According to János Süli, “even in the extremely unlikely event of an earthquake, the plant will be prepared with engineering solutions to deal with the forces resulting from the earthquake”.
In another reply, Tamás Schanda, State Secretary of the Ministry of Innovation and Technology, put the matter on a political level, and said it was incomprehensible why “the left are constantly attacking the Paks II project, which is important for the energy security and sovereignty of Hungary and for preserving the achievements of the reduction of the energy bill”.
Átlátszó learned that before the publication of the Austrian study, on 27-28 April, the Austrian Environmental Protection Agency held bilateral meetings with the Hungarian side, including the National Atomic Energy Office (OAH), to present the results of their research. The next day, on 29 April, Gyula Fichtinger, Director General of the OAH, unexpectedly resigned. In a Facebook post, Benedek Jávor, the head of the Budapest Representation in Brussels, wrote in reaction to the publication of the Austrian study:
“In the light of this, the sudden departure of Gyula Fichtinger, Director General of the OAH, and Fidesz’s amendment to the law to reorganise the nuclear authority may be more understandable. The doubts about the reliability of the licence, the departure of the head of the competent authority in the middle of this matter and the rapid reorganisation of the authority as a whole undermine public confidence in the government, the authority and the licence applicant to such an extent that, at the very least, the project and its licensing should be suspended immediately”.
Written by Tamás Bodoky. Original Hungarian articles are available here and here. Cover photo from the geological research comissioned by MVM Paks II Zrt. in preparation for the Paks NPP expansion, obtained by Atlatszo via a FOI request in 2017.