paks nuclear power plant

Important geological investigations will be skipped during Paks2 groundworks

Although the Hungarian Atomic Energy Authority (HAEA) has not yet issued the Paks II construction license but has requested further clarification, the groundworks could start this year.

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Portfolio reported that on 11 October the HAEA has taken a decision granting a special permit to Paks II Nuclear Power Plant Ltd to start groundworks above groundwater. However, the HAEA decision does not require geological documentation of possible near-surface fault lines during the excavation, despite expert’s warnings.

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By Hungarian law, nuclear power plants cannot be sited on a faultline having had surface displacement in the last 100,000 years, but some experts say that recent studies cannot clearly rule out this possibility. The HAEA is thus missing an opportunity to put an end to a very important debate. According to the relevant government decree:

“The site of a nuclear power plant, including a radius of at least 10 km, shall not be designated on a faultline where surface displacement has occurred in the last 100,000 years.”

The Paks2 geological survey, published by Átlátszó in 2017, revealed active faults beneath the Paks site and in a surface exploration trench on the south-western side of the nuclear power plant. Experts have since said that the Paks geological survey results do not support the official conclusion, and in fact strongly question the suitability of the site, because they indicate a faultline capable of surface displacement beneath the site.

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The discrepancy between the official standpoint of the Paks site licence and the opinion of the independent experts reviewing the geological survey could be clarified by an onsite geological field survey to be carried out during the excavation. Such a fieldwork would help to clarify and document the frequency and timing of the near-surface fractures, which would provide important information for the permitting process and provide important data for the mechanical and engineering design of the plant.

The onsite field survey during groundwork would be justified by the importance and extraordinary risk of the issue but skipping it would also mean that irretrievable geological evidence could be destroyed, whether surface fractures exit at the site.

For this reason, it is odd that the onsite geological survey during excavation is not required by the authority, which nevertheless imposes a few other conditions: fire protection and pollution reduction measures, archaeological monitoring and documentation, as well as requirements to enter into contracts and to pay the costs.

One of the authorities consulted by HAEA is the Mining Authority of Baranya County, which must be fully aware of the risk posed by skipping the field survey. Nevertheless, they do not mandate any geological fieldwork, but deal at length, for example, with the mining fee of the extracted raw materials.

The Mining Authority does not observe that the groundwork may affect up to 2-3 metres of in-situ sediments in which faultlines may be traceable. In their statement they document that the depth of the refilled soil from earlier human activity is 3-6 metres, and the groundwater is at 5.5 metres.

A comparison of the two values shows that the authorised excavation will also reach in-situ sediments, thus destroying the geological evidence found there.

Atlatszo is seeking comments from people in charge, in early October we sent a request for an interview to the Hungarian Atomic Energy Authority: we are primarily interested in how the authority views this issue, and what is its opinion is on the criticisms of geological research, such as the expert opinion of the geologist asked by the Austrian Environmental Protection Agency. However, the HAEA has not responded to our request.

Written and translated by Péter Gerner. The original, Hungarian version of this article can be found here

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