Controversial amendments of Nuclear Energy Act: The Hungarian government silently backed off, but independent nuclear oversight is still in peril

The Hungarian government furtively withdrew the two most controversial changes of the Nuclear Energy Act. These amendments passed in December 2016 allowed the government to bypass with a simple decree the valid permits of new nuclear reactors and radioactive waste facilities, originally issued by the formally independent nuclear regulator. [1] Since their adoption, there were reportedly heated discussions with the European Commission that these paragraphs were in breach with the Euratom Treaty. A recent modification of the Act has now returned the final say again to the nuclear regulator. [2] There was no public communication on this, neither on behalf of the Hungarian government, nor the Commission. Energiaklub and Nuclear Transparency Watch consider the retreat of the government a welcome change, but it also raises further questions about the independence of the Hungarian nuclear regulator.

Unfortunately, the looming questions about the independent operation of the Hungarian Atomic Energy Authority (HAEA) are far from settled. Surprisingly, the regulator itself claimed that it initiated the December 2016 amendments that ended up curbing its own powers. The responses to the freedom of information requests submitted by the think tank Energiaklub confirmed this claim. However, these requests also revealed that the government simply ignored several proposals from the nuclear regulator to strengthen its independence and to set a more coherent set of rules for the permitting process, partly based on international legal obligations like the Euratom Treaty and the Convention on Nuclear Safety. An expert mission of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) repeatedly criticised the limitations of effective independence of the nuclear regulator, such as the inability to fully control its own budget. The government chose to simply ignore these recommendations.

Marton Fabok, energy policy expert at the Hungarian think tank Energiaklub and member of Nuclear Transparency Watch says: “We welcome that the most immanent danger for the independence of nuclear oversight is over. It is still worrying, however, that the government is effectively continues to curb the powers of the nuclear regulator. A strong and independent authority is essential to ensure nuclear safety. Moreover, the Hungarian Atomic Energy Authority was complicit in not speaking out against the lacking guarantees of independent regulatory oversight.”

The Hungarian government changed the controversial law paragraphs after severe critique from the side of the European Commission who was alerted by environmental NGOs and discussions during the 7th Review Meeting of the IAEA administered Convention on Nuclear Safety in Vienna in March/April 2017. [3]

 MORE INFORMATION

Márton Fabók – Nuclear energy expert at Energiaklub, fabok@energiaklub.hu, +36 20 483 1747

Jan Haverkamp – Vice-chair of Nuclear Transparency Watch, jan.haverkamp@ecn.cz, +31 621 334 619

NOTES TO THE EDITOR

[1] The Hungarian government is currently about to build a nuclear power station with the vendor Rosatom from Russian loan of €10bn near the existing Paks nuclear power station in the South of the country on the Danube river. The Paks II developer MVM Paks II Ltd. is a 100% state owned company which is led by a minister without portfolio.

[2] The English language translation of the two controversial articles, now withdrawn, is the following:

Act CXLIII of 2016, § 14 (1) and (2):

(1) The following sub-point (dh) is added to point (d) of Section 67 of Act CXVI of 1996: (The Government shall be authorised to regulate, in a decree: (d) in respect of nuclear facilities)‘ (dh) possible ways and conditions of deviating from the official licences at a nuclear facility being established;’

(2) Section 67(w) of Act CXVI of 1996 is replaced by the following: (The Government shall be authorised to regulate, in a decree) : ‘(w) safety requirements for radioactive waste repositories and detailed rules for the related requirements of the authorities as well as possible ways and conditions of deviating from the licences at the radioactive waste repository being established;’

The indicated the recent changes in the Nuclear Energy Act (Act CXVI of 1996), this indicates the December 2016 versions in italic and the June 2016 versions in bold:

  1. (dh) of Section 67 of Act CXVI of 1996:
    “(The Government shall be authorised to regulate, in a decree) :
    (dh) possible ways and conditions of deviating from the official licences at a nuclear facility being established.”

was now replaced by
“(The Government shall be authorised to regulate, in a decree) :
(dh) the rules of procedure for the amendment of the licence of a nuclear facility being established.”

II. (w) of Section 67 of Act CXVI of 1996:
“(The Government shall be authorised to regulate, in a decree) :
(w) safety requirements for radioactive waste repositories and detailed rules for the related requirements of the authorities as well as possible ways and conditions of deviating from the licences at the radioactive waste repository being established.”

was now replaced by
“(The Government shall be authorised to regulate, in a decree) :
(w) the safety requirements for radioactive waste repositories, the detailed rules for the related requirements of the authorities and the rules of procedure for the amendment of the licence of a nuclear repository being established;”

[3] Letter of Energiaklub, Greenpeace, Nuclear Transparency Watch, WISE International, and Nuclear Information and Resource Service to the 7th Review Session of the Convention on Nuclear Safety

[4] Energiaklub analysis of the recommendations to strengthen the nuclear regulatory oversight (in Hungarian)

[5] The legal changes initiated by HAEA in September 2016 acquired by a FOI request (in Hungarian)