Hungary issued a key permit for the Russian-led expansion of its sole nuclear power plant, bolstering the nation's energy links with Moscow even as European Union peers seek to distance themselves over the invasion of Ukraine.
The National Atomic Energy Agency issued an "establishment permit" to build a fifth and sixth nuclear reactor in the city of Paks, next to four existing units whose lifetimes are expiring, according to a statement published on the authority's website on Thursday (Aug 25). Russia's state-owned Rosatom Corp is the lead constructor.
"This permit is a real turning point, a milestone that makes it possible for Hungary to have two new reactors by 2030," Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said in a Facebook post on Friday.
The decision contrasts with the position taken by Finland, which in May scrapped a construction contract with Rosatom following Russia's invasion of Hungary's eastern neighbour.
In Hungary, Prime Minister Viktor Orban's government has maintained that nuclear power is a crucial part of its energy mix, which is otherwise highly reliant on Russian oil and gas.
"We are confident that the Paks II nuclear power plant will guarantee Hungary's energy sovereignty for almost a century and bring European countries closer to achieving climate goals," Rosatom Chief Executive Officer Alexey Likhachev said in a statement on Friday.
The European energy crunch and skyrocketing prices are also boosting demand for nuclear power elsewhere, with Germany considering delaying the shutdown of its nuclear plants amid a squeeze in Russian gas supplies.
Hungary's decision to grant the establishment license at Paks, a key permit ahead of actual construction of the new reactors, will strengthen already deep ties under Orban, who's been a reluctant supporter of EU sanctions and who has won an exemption from under an EU oil embargo against Russia.