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Slovakia: Police Raid Mochovce Newbuilds

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A police raid by Slovakia's national criminal agency at Slovenske elektrarne's twin-unit Mochovce newbuild this week cast doubt on start-up plans for the first of the VVER-440 units later this year. The Naka raid focused on one pipe subcontractor to Mochovce-3 and -4, but both Naka and Slovak nuclear regulator UJD could expand separate investigations into the project's supply chain if they find indications of broader systemic issues. Only last month the UJD issued a draft operating license for Mochovce-3, kicking off a public consultation through Apr. 15, and the raid adds yet another issue that Slovenske elektrarne must now address before a final operating license is issued and fuel loading can begin (NIW Feb.21'20). In a Mar. 4 Facebook post Naka announced that its "Electro" criminal investigations unit was looking into a discrepancy between the "composition, manufacturing process or origin" of certain components at the reactors and their documentation. The Naka team, assisted by experts from several industries as well as the military, and the use of specialized technology, is mulling the launch of criminal proceedings, although it declined to provide further details. This comes less than half a year after a separate November police raid at the nuclear plant in which two individuals were arrested for overcharging their services by "1,000%" (NIW Nov.15'19). These raids, and the prospect of criminality in the nuclear supply chain, echo similar scandals in France and South Korea over the past decade (NIW May6'16; NIW Aug.23'13). And it comes at a precarious time for the Slovak nuclear industry. In 2015 Italy's Enel agreed to sell its 66% stake in the Slovak utility to Czech-based EPH after the newbuilds are completed, but the project, first started in 1987 and restarted in 2009, has stumbled along for a decade without achieving that goal (NIW Jun.8'18; NIW Aug.28'15). Added to that, it faces vociferous opposition from anti-nuclear forces across the border in Austria, and now this corruption issue could prove even more troublesome (NIW Sep.27'19). Quality Questions The probe itself centers on a subcontractor to Czech-based JS Skoda, a key supplier for the Mochovce project. "During one of the planned inspections which take place at the construction of Unit 3 and 4 of the Mochovce Nuclear Power Plant, a discrepancy was identified in the quality of the supplied material from a specific contractor," Slovenske elektrarne spokesperson Miroslav Sarissky told Energy Intelligence. "Consequently, a comprehensive internal check of all components from that contractor started and its evaluation is under way." Sarissky did not mention JS Skoda or its subcontractor, but the components at issue appear to be piping within the nuclear island, although not in the main circulation tubes. "After completion of the checks we will decide on the next steps and hold those responsible to the account," said Sarissky. For its part JS Skoda provided Energy Intelligence a statement explaining that since "carrying out audits at our suppliers, which have probably led to specific suspicions of nonconformities in the documentation, we have been intensively and transparently examining the extent and impacts of the nonconformities identified," in cooperation with Slovenske elektrarne. Peter Uhrik, general director of the UJD's department of evaluation and inspection activities, explained in a Mar. 5 interview with Energy Intelligence that the regulator had cooperated with the police, but that "they made their own investigation, and we made our own one as well." While the police focus is mainly on commercial issues, the UJD is focused on safety. "From our point of view -- it's something that's wrong when pipes or components aren't in accordance with the qualification documentation," said Uhrik. "This is something that needs to be verified." The UJD is now relying on Slovenske elektrarne to verify the documentation and to prove the safety of suspect components or replace them. "In addition, we requested the license-holder randomly verify material composition from the other subcontractors," explained Uhrik. It must then assess whether those components "comply with their certificates. If the noncompliance is identified, all components from [that] respective supplier have to be verified." This approach "should serve to eliminate another failure in supply chain. Till now no other failure has been identified." Slovenske elektrarne already had a list of issues to address at Unit 3 in order to obtain its operating license. These include, among other things, reduced insulation resistance in the four electric heaters of the pressurizer and reduced air quality in the hermetic zone (NIW Jan.31'20). Once these issues have been satisfactorily addressed, and public comments on the draft operating license consultation are in, it will fall to Uhrik to issue a "first instance" decision on the Unit 3 operating license. "My expectation is that the first instance license will be issued in the second half of May, when we look at the situation in very optimistic eyes," Uhrik told Energy Intelligence. But this decision can -- and likely will -- be appealed to the regulator within 15 days. Any comments on an appeal, explained Uhrik, "have to be evaluated and if necessary reflected in the second-instance decision" issued by UJD Chairperson Marta Ziakova, who can also consult a special advisory committee consisting of outside academics and nuclear experts. That "second-instance decision" can then be appealed by stakeholders in the courts, although it's not clear how long any subsequent legal process might take. Phil Chaffee, London pchaffee@energyintel.com

Topics:
Nuclear, Nuclear Fuel, Policy and Regulation
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