2011-04-26 WikiLeaks: Kozloduy NPP incident in 2006 – lack of transparency and violations of the safety regulations

A report of the U.S. Ambassador John Beyrle from 19th May 2005, shared by Wikileaks with their media partner Bivol unveils new details about the incident in Kozloduy Nuclear Power Plant that happened on 1st March 2006.

Five years ago the Bulgarian society was kept in disinformation about the serious technical failure of the Nuclear Power Plant, which the staff became aware of during an emergency turn-off of the reactor which came as a result from the switch-off of one of the cooling pumps.

Actually, the incident was disclosed in a publication of the nuclear expert Georgi Kaschiev for “Spiegel”. It comes out that on 1st March 2006, 22 mechanisms failed to operate from 61 control stub-sinkers in total, which are supposed to suffocate the reactor.

“The central security system did not come into action”, Kaschiev said then, and he compared the incident to a car drive at full speed without brakes.

Initially, the Nuclear Power Plant management board and its controlling authority, the Nuclear Regulation Agency, denied in a coordinated voice the seriousness of the incident, evaluated at the “zero” grade from the INES scale by them. The director the Nuclear Regulation Agency, Sergey Tsachev, defined the publications in the western print media as “exaggerations” in the eve of the 20th anniversary since the catastrophe in Chernobil. Kaschiev was alleged by Minister Ovcharov that “he makes everything possible in order to discredit the Bulgarian energy sector and the whole country”.

The U.S. Embassy was informed about the incident a week before the coming out of the publication in “Spiegel” on 25th April 2006.

After the Spiegel publication and the verbal storm raging out in the mass media, the energy regulatory authority, the Agency for Nuclear Regulation, was forced to report on the incident in the International Atomic Energy Agency. At the end, it was evaluated at second grade from INES scale. That discrepancy with the initial evaluation of the incident seriousness became a reason for the opposition to ask for the resignation of the energy Minister Ovcharov.

The technical explanation for the incident was spoken out at a special press conference of the directors of the nuclear power plant at the beginning of May, 2006. In his opinion, the drive mechanisms of the sinkers got stuck due to the long period of inactiveness, which had continued for 197 days because of the trouble-free work of the reactor. The decision was those drive units to be checked periodically through manual activation in order to prevent new adhesions.

That long “trouble-free work” leads to a paradox. If the incident had happened some months later, most probably a greater number of mechanisms would have blocked and the situation would have come out of control – that is what expertise sources of the U.S. Embassy point out.

Besides the technical failure, there was human factor interference. The power plant management board has allowed the work of the reactor for another 6 hours after the defect was already stated, which is “a clear violation of the safety guidelines”, the cable further goes.

However, the information about that violation was kept in secret from the Bulgarian publicity and no one shouldered the responsibility.

Another source of the U.S. Embassy said that the director of the power plant, Ivan Ivanov, received a threat of being “knocked off”, unless he keeps in secret details about the incident.

“Kozloduy” Nuclear Power Plant is a state company having the Ministry of Economy, Energy and Tourism as its principal, and the chief who can “knock off” the director Ivan Ivanov at that time is the minister Ovcharov, one of the noisiest opponents of the closure of the small blocks ib Kozloduy and a downright supporter of the “Belene” Nuclear Power Plant project.

These statements make the suspicions even stronger that officials and politicians related to the nuclear sector are much more afraid of information, rather then from possible radiation leaks.

Recently, the deputy chairman of “EcoGlasnost” National Movement, Petar Penchev, announced that he was threatened by a DANS (bulgarian special services) officer for disclosing data about the radioation emissions form “Kozloduy” Nuclear Power Plant at a conference, which in his point of view surpass hundreds of times the emissions from the European nuclear power plants. “EcoGlasnost” National Movement was the organization that sent the signal to the Chief Prosecutor of Bulgaria “for covering the incident in “Kozloduy” Nuclear Power Plant in 2006”.

Beyrle analysed the refusal to announce timely and transparent information covering the incident in the lights of the coming euro membership and vexation of the Bulgarian government at the European ultimatum to stop Kozloduy old blocks.

“Any indication that Unit 5, which is to remain operational, is unsafe would seriously undermine the assertion of many officials that the forced closure of Units 3 and 4 is unjust”, the U.S. Ambassador writes.

The lack of transparency is one of the key topics in the cables from Sofia which discuss issues from the energy sector and Kozloduy Nuclear Power Plant, but they also touch on the projects for Belene Nuclear Power Plant, South Stream and Bourgas-Alexandropoulis pipelines.