Dutch bank ING 'no comment' on report it will not finance upgrade of Slovakia's Mochovce NPP

Monday, February 4, 2008

PRAGUE. FEBRUARY 4. INTERFAX CENTRAL EUROPE - Dutch bank ING has declined to comment on a report it will not invest any money into a project to upgrade Slovakia's Soviet-era Mochovce nuclear power plant (NPP), while remaining lead bank in a USD 800 mln corporate revolving credit facility secured by Slovak utility Slovenske elektrarne (SE) chiefly for that purpose.

U.K.-based monthly magazine Environmental Finance last week cited ING spokesperson Debbie Brand as saying the bank had not pulled out of the USD 800 mln "general purpose" corporate revolving credit facility, but neither would the Dutch lender put any money into the Mochovce project.

"I can unfortunately not comment on your questions due to client confidentiality," Brand told Interfax via email, when asked to confirm environmental pressure group Greenpeace's claim that ING had said it would "not invest a single euro" and to explain how the Dutch lender would remain part of the USD 800 mln corporate revolving credit facility when 85% of it was earmarked for a Mochovce upgrade and expansion.

However, Jan Haverkamp, Greenpeace's EU campaigner on nuclear energy, told Interfax on Monday that ING had clearly committed to withdrawing funding for the Mochovce at a January meeting between Greenpeace and ING representatives from the bank's corporate social responsibility (CSR) department.

"After talks with ING [in end November and again in early January] they told us they could guarantee no money was going from ING into that project, neither through project financing, nor corporate financing nor in any other indirect way," Haverkamp told Interfax. "They said they not a single euro would go into that project."

Italy's Enel, which became majority owner of Slovak utility Slovenske elektrarne (SE) in 2005, aims to complete the third and fourth 440 MW block at the Soviet-built Mochovce by 2013. The plant consists of two VVER 440/213 nuclear reactors, completed - with added safety systems supplied by the German company Siemens, in the late 1990s. Work on reactors three and four has been suspended since 1992.

Greenpeace, citing safety and technological concerns raised also by the Slovak Nuclear Regulatory Authority Agency, has campaigned for the Mochovce plant - which Haverkamp called "among the worst nuclear projects" currently under development in Europe - not to be expanded.

The pressure group says the VVER reactors were not equipped with a dual containment structure, which would serve to protect the environment from radioactive releases and protecting the plant from external events - such as a plane crash, shock wave, or deliberate terrorist attack.

Haverkamp told Interfax ING's refusal to finance the Mochovce plant was "precedence setting" and said Greenpeace was currently in talks or correspondence with the other eight banks involved in the financing to get them to withdraw funding [Calyon, Mizuho Corporate Bank, Intesa Sanpaolo, KBC, Slovenska sporitelna, French Societe Generale's Czech and Slovak units (Komercni banka Praha and Komercni banka Bratislava) and Dexia].

"I think there is a good chance the other banks also will say they do not want the money to go into Mochovce," Haverkamp said. "It is, of course, up to Slovenske elektrarne and Enel to draw their [own] conclusions."

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