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For months, Paks nuclear power station has been placing full-page adverts in local and national papers testifying to the generator's safety, to its bright future prospects, to its promise of carbon-free energy, and even about the cheapness of their power.

The head of the International Atomic Energy Authority was in Budapest recently at a conference and was received by our 'green' president. This signals that our energy chiefs have almost achieved their dream of building two new 1000MW generators at the power station. Billions of forints have been spent on this project over many years. The main focus so far has been on securing an extension of the station's working life. This is unavoidable, just to satisfy our energy needs. For the next step, building two new reactors, they will need more than HUF1000bn in state subsidies.

The proponents of nuclear energy dwell upon the fact that nuclear generation produces no greenhouse gasses. But the tens of thousands of tons of iron used to build a nuclear power station, the mining of uranium and waste treatment are all based on traditional power sources. It thus increases carbon dioxide emissions. So the indirect carbon dioxide emissions from a nuclear power station is around a fifth of a traditional power station's. This could be attractive - except the cooling water running out of the power station just pumps 2,500MW of heat into the Danube. That could be used to heat 250,000 homes.

In Hungary, renewable energy would almost certainly mean biomass utilisation. Biomass just recycles carbon, it does not create it. Our overproduction of corn and wheat alone could replace 3bn cubic metres of natural gas each year - about as much gas as we import.

But the nuclear lobby thinks that biomass could only produce a tenth of this energy. Several coal-fired stations have switched to burning wood, even those these could burn corn for around 30 per cent less money, without pushing up wood prices. We lead the EU in unused biomass surpluses, but we use less of it than anyone else. With just half of the money we plan to spend on new reactors, we could provide 30 per cent of the country's energy needs. We could create 100,000 jobs at the same time.

István Zvolenszky is a retired engineer.
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