A Glowing “Hello” Out of Hungary!

Greetings from Budapest! Which immediately gives rise to the question, in our EuroSavant context, of “What’s going on in the Hungarian press?” Which immediately gives rise to my answer of “Well, remember that mere momentary location really need have nothing to do with what appears on these pages, since EuroSavant itself is predicated on the wondrous power of the Internet to make much of the world’s press available to the curious web-surfer no matter where s/he might be, as long as there’s Internet access. Besides, hyperlinks to the articles I discuss, allowing readers also able to read the language in question to see for themselves what is actually written in a discussed article, are an important element of my entries – as links in general are for most weblogs – so that local availability of the paper editions is less than completely useful.”

To which you might respond “Point taken.” Or you might reply instead “Don’t give me any of your windy pontification, you pompous on-line $&*&^%#$$! To my understanding your function is not supposed to be standing up on a cyber-soapbox to cyber-nit-pick, but rather to give us some idea of what the European media is writing in languages we don’t understand – and you’re awfully late in getting to that here!” Right then – let’s take a look . . .

Since you asked . . . the leading ongoing controversy being tracked by the Hungarian press involves the Hungarian nuclear reactor located at Paks. Nuclear reactors are in-and-of-themselves very good candidates for generating controversy, particularly Eastern European nuclear reactors (for the Czech Republic, to cite another example, see “Temelin”; the problem is that most of these were built according to what can be labeled “Chernobyl-grade” former Soviet safety standards, but that at the same time these rather poorer countries still need the cheap power they generate), particularly Eastern European reactors which have suffered a recent serious accident, as apparently happened at Paks last April 10. The Népszabadság headline succinctly gives what’s going on now: Paks: folyik a vita a felelõsségrõl – “Paks: the conflict continues over responsibility.” Already there have been serious personal consequences to many working at the Paks plant as a result of an internal investigation undertaken immediately after the April accident: the director of plant safety resigned, and lower-level officials were transferred to other departments and had their pay cut and their bonuses cancelled.

But when it comes to the man at the top, plant director István Kocsis, consequences have not yet ensued – because he disclaims responsibility. As he stated yesterday (May 21) in an interview for Hungarian State Radio’s news channel (Kossuth Radio), the director for plant safety is not under the authority of the plant director; he’s just expected to adequately deal with any threats to the plants safety on his own, independently from the plant director. To which József Rónaky, head of the National Atomic Energy Office, replied that, according to Hungarian legislation, the company running the atomic plant (the “Paksi Atomerõmü Rt.”)responsible for it’s safety, and that responsibility is of course located in that company’s director, namely in Mr. Kocsis. But, Rónaky added, the company director could then delegate that responsibility to others; in any case, he said, he was talking about organizational responsibility, and would not comment on questions of Mr. Kocsis’ personal responsibility.

But of course the opposition party, FIDESZ, is glad to do so. One of its parliamentary representatives, Zoltán Illés, called for Kocsis to be fired and for the National Atomic Energy Office to withdraw the Paks plant’s license. That was in his comments to Népszabadság; predictably, the FIDESZ newspaper Magyar Nemzet was more scathing: Elvtársi vizsgálat történt Pakson az atomerõmüben. This headline depends heavily on the world elvtárs, the Hungarian for “comrade,” as in how good party-members were supposed to address each other in the bad old days that ended in 1989; it’s perhaps best translated as “An investigation in the old ‘comrade’ style occurred at the Paks atomic plant.” It seems that, in an impressive investigative-reporting manner, Magyar Nemzet has discovered that that initial committee investigating the accident and who was responsible was stocked with members with ties to the MSZMP – that’s the Socialist Party which runs Hungary’s government today. It’s no wonder, then, that they have punished the little fish but let the big fish go free (so far), namely Kocsis and his subordinate Péter Tilky. The above-mentioned FIDESZ member of Parliament Zoltán Illés is heavily involved in this affair, because he’s the one initiating an appeal to Hungary’s highest court against the Paks plant management.

Sure, this is simply a fishy judicial/investigative matter in a small country that may be far away from you, but accidents at nuclear power plants can also ultimately have serious consequences far, far away downwind – if you get my drift. Chernobyl showed us that most infamously, back at the end of April, 1986. In my view this affair is demonstrating how far Hungary has proceded away from the Chernobyl/Soviet pattern when it comes to demanding explanations and accountability for nuclear accidents, but also how far it has still to go to what (we assume) would happen in the event of similary-serious incidents in the USA, the UK, and Western Europe generally.

(Oh, and what exactly happened at that Paks nuclear plant accident in April? A couple of readers have already faulted me for not mentioning this, especially in view of my last comments above about how nuclear plant accidents can potentially effect us all, and thus this addition to today’s entry. It seems that radioactive gases escaped from the plant, in connection with cleaning of the fuel rods in the second reactor block. Serious, of course, but apparently nothing to spark any international incident – this time.)

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