The Russian state atomic energy corporation Rosatom has received permission last week to start the main phase of construction for two new units at the Paks II nuclear power plant (NPP) project in Hungary.
According to a Rosatom statement, the permit received on August 18, 2023, from the Hungarian state-run operator Paks II Ltd, will allow Rosatom to initiate the manufacturing of long-cycle equipment like reactors and steam generators, among others, as well as commence the construction of all buildings and structures.
Work currently underway at the site includes soil reinforcement, preparation for the construction of anti-filtration curtains, and construction of temporary facilities in the work area, such as an auxiliary office and production buildings, the statement said.
In August last year, the regulator, Hungarian Atomic Energy Authority, issued the license for the construction of the Paks II NPP consisting of two power units with the Russian-designed state-of-the art Generation 3+ VVER-1200 reactors.
Hungary is a member of the European Union (EU), while this is the first time that a VVER-1200 reactor has been issued a construction license in the EU, confirming that the planned twin units of the Paks II NPP comply with both Hungarian and European safety standards.
Rosatom has said that it intends to implement the Paks II project with automated active and passive safety systems, including a reinforced concrete containment with a double wall structure. Moreover, the facility will have a core catcher to prevent the release of radioactive substances from the active zone in the extremely unlikely event of an accident.
The Paks II NPP power units of 1,200 MW capacity each are expected to have a guaranteed lifetime of 60 years.
“We are confident that the Paks II NPP will guarantee Hungary’s energy sovereignty for almost a century and bring European countries closer to achieving climate goals”, Rosatom Director General Alexey Likhachev has said.
The Paks II nuclear plant project is an expansion of the existing Paks NPP, located five kilometres from the small town of Paks in central Hungary.
The new plant will be constructed on the banks of the Danube river, which means that the most crucial task for the builders and engineers will be to stabilise the soil under the reactors. They will have to build the “impervious blanket”, that is, an underground wall to prevent groundwater from penetrating into the reactor hall. This structure will also ensure the stability of the soil under the operating reactors of Paks I located next to the power units to be constructed. Almost one million cubic meters of earth have been excavated by now.
Before pouring the first concrete for the foundation, the ground must be excavated up to 30 meters deep and all the associated infrastructure needs to be prepared for this operation.
The first unit of the Paks NPP turned forty last year. The facility accounts for 45 percent of electric power generated in Hungary. The first and only nuclear power plant in Hungary was built and put into operation during 1982–1987 pursuant to the Paks NPP Construction Agreement signed in 1966.
Located 100 kilometres south of the capital Budapest, the Paks NPP has four VVER-440 reactor units with a total capacity of 1,900 MW. Since their service life was extended for 20 years, the plant will remain in operation until 2037. The Hungarian government is considering the possibility of extending its life to 60 years. Paks accounts for over 45 percent of Hungary’s annual power production and covers a third of its total electricity consumption, which includes power imports, making its role critical.
Paks is the world’s only nuclear power plant with VVER-440 reactors converted to an extended 15-month fuel cycle. Each of its four reactors continues to use nuclear fuel produced by Elemash, a subsidiary of Rosatom’s fuel arm TVEL. In 2020, a new fuel modification was developed and introduced in cooperation between the Paks NPP and TVEL. The new fuel has an optimised ratio of water to uranium, which makes the reactor operation more cost-effective.
Hungary is re-industrialising and has set up many energy-intensive industries such as automotive plants and battery giga-factories, all of which need large amounts of electricity. Hungary’s national energy strategy envisages the continued development of its nuclear sector. In the 1970s and 1980s, the first power reactors at Paks were designed and built by nuclear engineers from the former Soviet Union.