Ep 214: Andrej Stritar - Director, Slovenian Nuclear Safety Administration
Andrej’s journey from the Jozef Stefan Institute to the conference (0:27)
0:27-11:44 (Andrej explains his involvement with the conference and how he first became interested in the nuclear industry. He also discusses the Krško Nuclear Power Plant.)
Q. This conference is in Slovenia but it’s for all of Eastern Europe?
A. This in an international conference hosted in Slovenia which began in 1992. Andrej Stritar was the main founder of the Nuclear Society of Slovenia which was founded in 1991 after Slovenia became independent. Andrej remained the Society’s president for about 10 years. This conference is the main activity of the Society.
Andrej first became interested in nuclear at the time when the industry was creating a lot of excitement. As a student, Andrej was given the opportunity to work at the Jozef Stefan Institute, which is the premier nuclear research facility in Slovenia. The institute used to focus primarily on nuclear research, but nuclear has since become only a small focus of the Institute. As a student, Andrej was studying electrical engineering and control processes. He developed models to simulate nuclear power plants. Later, Andrej worked on thermohydraulic safety analysis of nuclear power plants.
The Krško Nuclear Power Plant was constructed in 1981 and Andrej first began work in 1977 when the plant was being constructed. Andrej’s role was to review the safety analysis reports and design documentations. There are several stories for the reasons behind why the American Westinghouse design was accepted for the Krško plant. The Yugoslavian president at the time was distancing Yugoslavia from Russia and was receiving strong pressure from Germany to construct a nuclear power plant. The president instead accepted an American offer to equalize the influence of other powers in the region. The financial offer from Westinghouse was also good. At the time, there was no nuclear regulatory body, so the nuclear power plant was constructed like any other industrial facility.
In 1984, Andrej left thermohydraulic safety analysis to join an International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA) fellowship where he worked in Brookhaven National Lab in Long Island. Here he worked on plant analysis for Boiling Water Reactors. After the fellowship, Andrej continued with this work. A few years later, Slovenia and Croatia began plans to construct a joint power plant which became the Krško facility. It was constructed as a joint project because the region used to be Yugoslavia. When Andrej first entered the industry, Yugoslavia planned to build 10 nuclear power plants, but this number reduced over time. The second plant project in 1986 collected tenders and Andrej was to review these tenders. But the project was dropped after Chernobyl. A Yugoslavian nuclear regulatory body was established in 1988 by a professor at the Institute and grew slowly and became independent in the early 1990s.
Slovenia’s Regulator (11:45)
11:45-17:50 (Andrej explains Slovenia’s regulator and how it differs from the US.)
Q. What functionally changed when the regulator became independent?
A. Not much changed for the nuclear power plants. The first plant began operation after receiving a license from the ministry. The authority then shifted from the ministry to the regulatory body, which later became part of the Ministry of the Environment. The regulator was established according to international standards and provided competent people to provide plant overviews. Unlike in the US, there are no resident inspectors because the plant is located only a short distance to the regulator. While the inspectors do fill out paperwork on violations, they are also trained to observe more generally. They focus on evaluating the overall safety culture of the plant, which Andrej believes is crucial.
The overreaction of 2008 (17:51)
17:51-30:28 (Andrej explains how nuclear events are discussed with the public. He gives the example of a pipe breakage that occurred in 2008.)
Q. What were some of the important things that occurred during that time?
A. No serious events occurred and the same director was in place for over 25 years, meaning the management of the power plant was good. In addition to equipment inspections, refueling and fuel purchasing, staff are required to always be prepared to quickly react to a serious event. For example, a large valve on the secondary site of the steam generator broke a few years ago. This challenged people to react quickly to fix the problem. The system is designed so that in the event of a failure, nothing should happen. While engineers understand that things break, the public does not like to hear this. Slovenia requires a statement to be issued to the public after a breakage.
On June 4th 2008, a small pipe broke causing a leak from the primary system to the containment. The system was slowly shut down and no serious event occurred. This was reported to the Atomic Energy Agency and to the Luxembourg nuclear coordination body for the European Union. Due to a confusion, this was reported as an alert rather than an informational report, which Luxembourg then distributed throughout Europe and to the European Commission. The event was then shared with the public as a nuclear accident and was distributed by major news outlets across Europe. Andrej was then interviewed by many news channels and had to deal with the overreaction. One positive that came of this incident, however, was the positive relationship established with Greenpeace after Andrej explained the incident in detail to an antinuclear Greenpeace employee.
Becoming Director of the Slovenian Nuclear Safety Administration (30:29)
30:29-33:18 (Andrej explains how he became the Director of the Slovenian Nuclear Safety Administration.)
Q. You were in the chief role at this point?
A. Andrej was the Director of the Slovenian Nuclear Safety Administration from 2002 until his retirement in Spring 2019. Andrej was selected because he was enthusiastic and helped establish an active nuclear society. He was also head of the nuclear training center at the Jozef Stefan Institute in 2001. At this time, the ministry published the draft of a new nuclear law. Andrej’s society prepared comments on proposed law. Andrej then organized the meeting of the representatives of the ministry to discuss the law. He was then invited to officially join the group that was preparing the nuclear law. This lead to Andrej’s selection to potentially replace the director of the regulatory body at the time. At first, Andrej did not want to take the position because he found it more comfortable to work in the nuclear training center. He finally agreed to take on the position because he likes a challenge.
Blockers to Slovenia’s nuclear future (33:19)
33:19-41:10 (Andrej discusses the challenges Slovenia faces when expanding their nuclear program. A safety of future underground reactors is also discussed.)
Q. Tell me about some of the challenges the Slovenian nuclear industry faces for moving forwards into the future.
A. Slovenia is considering a new plant again. It was first proposed about 12 years ago by the government at the time. The project slowed because politicians do not favor long term projects. Additionally, the US shifted away from nuclear to adopt fracking, contributing to a decreased interest in nuclear in Slovenia. A coal power plant was also constructed and the economic crisis reduced the availability of funds for new projects. Slovenia is also plagued by the problem of not being able to agree on projects.
Money does not determine whether or not a project is supported, but rather the impact on the environment. While nuclear power has a small infrastructure footprint, the core meltdown potential is a big deal. If the plant is placed underground, heat may not be able to be removed, which would melt the reactor and gaseous material would escape into the environment. While a river could be incorporated into the cooling system, the question arises as to what to do in drought or if an earthquake blocks river flow. Even with micro reactors, heat will need to be removed. Filters can slow the process, but the melting material would eventually enter the environment.
Establishing effective radiation communication (41:11)
41:11-46:40 (Andrej explains that establishing a strong safety culture is necessary in securing the future of nuclear. He believes this can be done through effective communication about the risks of nuclear radiation.)
Q. How do you think about the growth of the nuclear industry given the risk?
A. Proper management and safety culture ensures the future of the industry. Andrej believes that the risk of death during a meltdown is probably zero. This was seen in Fukushima where people were evacuated and no lives were lost. Andrej compares the risk of nuclear radiation to the risk of fire. The risk of a house catching on fire exists, yet we still live in buildings and have firefighters in place to deal with emergencies. Andrej hopes that society will reach a point where we treat radiation the same way as we treat fire. However, because we are unable to feel radiation, people are more afraid of nuclear risks. Additionally, explaining radiation to the public is complicated. The industry does not need to explain specific radiation terminology, such as beta, gamma and stochastic radiation. Instead, the industry should establish trust using popular influencers to enable the public to believe in the safety and benefits of nuclear power.
Identifying a nuclear influencer (46:41)
46:41-56:02 (Andrej discusses potential nuclear influencers in Slovenia and why a politician can not take on this role.)
Q. Are there influencers in Slovenia?
A. Yes. Firefighters are the most trusted in Slovenia. Small villages have firefighter clubs as the focal point of the village. The nuclear industry has engaged the firefighters but not in an organized way. Slovenia has yet to establish a main promoter of nuclear. This person should not be part of the nuclear industry, but should be trusted by the country. This person could be a former politician, a scientist or a respected entrepreneur. They must have no perceived bias and must be able to speak about Slovenia’s energy needs to the public. Slovenia, however, has a problem identifying the people who will decide the direction in which the country should move. For example, the Ministry of Infrastructure has been preparing plans for 15 years, but have yet to make a firm decision. While the Prime Minister has spoken in support of nuclear as a solution to climate change, he would not make a good influencer based on his political associations. Although he is supported, ministers have not spoken up in support of nuclear or made any decisions. Andrej takes on a realistic position and does not see Slovenia’s ability to develop and build a nuclear facility without the help of another country.
Andrej’s best case nuclear scenario (56:03)
56:03-59:27 (Andrej discusses his best case scenario for nuclear. He warns that if this does not occur, Slovenia would need to radically change lifestyles and decrease energy consumption.)
Q. If we were to look 10 years into the future, what would be the best case scenario for Slovenia, nuclear and climate change?
A. Andrej foresees Krško remaining in operation. He would also like to see a decision in parliament supporting nuclear and to see new constructed nuclear power plants. Andrej is not optimistic that this will occur, however, as environmental impact assessment, discussions with neighboring countries, and making a public tender for investment will delay construction. But, if nuclear were to be dropped entirely in Slovenia and renewables adopted in its place, lifestyles would have to radically change to decrease energy consumption.