Hungary has begun talks with France to increase its role in the expansion of the Paks nuclear power plant, which could eventually lead to it replacing Russia contractor Rosatom, reported the Financial Times.
Hungarian officials talking to the Financial Times acknowledged that the government has concerns about the Russian involvement in the project due to the prolongation of the war.
French President Emmanuel Macron received Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban in Paris on March 13, ahead of the EU summit. The French leader called on Hungary to support the ratification of Sweden and Finalnd as Nato members and stressed the need for a united EU stance behind Ukraine. Energy security issues were also on the agenda. As more details emerge from the meeting, these could have dominated the talks.
On the sideline of Orban’s visit to Paris, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Peter Szijjarto met with executives of France nuclear company Framatome, which won a multi-billion euro contract together with Germany's Siemens for a control system for the Paks power plant. Hungary has offered France a bigger role in the project after the German government blocked the delivery of the control system, citing Rosatom’s involvement in the project.
Hungarian officials talking to the FT acknowledged that the government is in the midst of rethinking the €12.5bn project. According to them, the longer the war drags on and the sanctions last, the more likely it becomes that Russian participation in the project may have to be phased out altogether.
Hungary commissioned Russian state-energy giant Rosatom in 2014 to build two 1,200 MW reactors at Paks financed from a €10bn Russian loan. The project has suffered 5-7 years of delay, and it is unlikely that the new blocks could go operational before 2030.
Hungary however is not planning to abandon the project led by Rosatom and replace the main Russian reactor design with other ones as that would involve a new licensing procedure with the EU and the International Atomic Energy Agency as well as the local nuclear authority, a process which could drag on for years.
A French official told the FT that both sides were open to work closer on nuclear power, but it was not clear whether it was going to be the Paks expansion project or another one.
Budapest is also in a time constraint to boost energy supply as the country’s demand for electricity could surge from 44 TWh to 68 TWh by 2030, according to its forecasts, as the government is planning to attract a number of large-scale, energy-intensive industrial projects such as an EV battery industry.
As the licensing procedure of the Paks expansion dragged on, the government approved a regulation to extend the decommissioning of the four existing blocks, each with a capacity of 500 MW, by another 20 years. The existing reactors were planned to be phased out between 2032 and 2037.
Rosatom’s Hungarian unit issued a statement on Saturday saying the company is ready to implement the Paks 2 nuclear power plant project and is convinced that it will build the new nuclear power plant using today's most advanced and safest VVER-1200 technology.
Hungary is the only EU country where Rosatom is still involved, as it has been excluded from projects in Czechia, Bulgaria, and Finland after the invasion of Ukraine.