Flawed safety checks at Czech nuclear plants lasted for around a decade

Dukovany nuclear power plant, photo: Jiří Sedláček, CC BY-SA 4.0 International

For the last half year the Czech Republic’s dominant electricity company and nuclear power plant operator ČEZ has been plagued by flawed safety checks at both of its nuclear power plants. It now turns out that the flawed checks continued for around a decade.

Dukovany nuclear power plant,  photo: Jiří Sedláček,  CC BY-SA 4.0 International
ČEZ managing director Daniel Beneš was in the hot seat Sunday on Czech Television’s flagship current affairs programme. He and his company have been the target of sustained criticism for the last months with only one of the four reactors at the Dukovany nuclear power plant working for most of that time. The reason has been hurried safety checks on the welds of kilometres of piping at the plant after it was revealed that previous X-rays examinations by a sub-contracting firm were flawed.

The flawed safety checks affected ČEZ’s second, more modern, nuclear rector, Temelín, as well, although the back up systems there are different from at Dukovany and the risks were judged to be of a lower level that did not require the reactors to shut down.

The ČEZ boss put a figure from the long term Dukovany shut downs for 2015 at around 2.5 billion crowns in lost profit. But the shutdowns and damages have continued into 2016 and some analysts reckon at least another 1 billion crowns can easily be added to that figure.

But the real eye opener in the interview was Daniel Beneš’ revelation that the flawed safety checks have been going on for around a decade and that it has the appearances of a very sophisticated fraud. This is what he had to say:

“I do not think it was slackness, it was a very sophisticated and deliberate fraud. If nearly all of the workers at this firm took part in a deliberate fraud, it is not slackness but a criminal act and that is how it must be treated.”

Daniel Beneš,  photo: Filip Jandourek
Daniel Beneš added that ČEZ had no reason on the face of it to doubt the competence of the company contracted to carry out the safety checks because it had been authorized by the state to carry out such specialized work.

He added that heads could though be expected to roll at ČEZ as well for the embarrassing turn of events. Both ČEZ and the state nuclear watchdog, the State Office for Nuclear Safety, have already filed criminal proceedings over the failings. ČEZ will also seek to recoup its lost earnings.

The safety checks in question were focused on pipes outside the core reactors, but they nonetheless relate to some of the safety and back-ups systems that would be called upon in an emergency when other equipment failed or in the case of human error.

The flawed safety checks are all the more embarrassing since Dukovany previously had once of the most reliable and consistent safety records of all nuclear reactors worldwide. The dent in its reputation could not come at a worse time with a probable 10 year operating extension on the oldest reactor now stalled by the Czech nuclear watchdog until ČEZ gets its paperwork and safety procedures back in order.