By Alissa de Carbonnel
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - European Union plans for financing the decommissioning of nuclear plants in Bulgaria, Lithuania and Slovakia are inadequate and more resources need to be put aside, the European Court of Auditors said in a report.
The report criticizing costly delays and warning of technical hurdles ahead shines a spotlight on the challenges facing Germany and other nations within the bloc that are planning to retire their nuclear reactors.
The EU's spending watchdog said the estimated cost of decommissioning the three Soviet-era plants closed more than a decade ago had risen 40 percent since 2010 to at least 5.7 billion euros ($6.4 billion) by 2015. That figure doubles if the cost of disposing spent fuel once and for all is included.
The EU auditors said while the bloc's budget covered the vast majority of the costs of shutting down the reactors in the three member states, significant funding was still needed to take the plants offline completely.
They said the reactor buildings at Bulgaria's Kozloduy, Lithuania's Ignalina and Slovakia's Bohunice had yet to be dismantled and no solution had been found for the disposal of spent nuclear fuel.
As many of Europe's reactors reach the end of their life cycles, the continent is divided over whether to use nuclear power as a way to reduce climate-warming emissions or ditch the energy altogether over safety concerns.
Germany decided to phase out all nuclear power by 2022 following Japan's Fukushima disaster five years ago but Britain gave the go-ahead last week for its first reactor in decades, the $24 billion Hinkley Point C plant.
Decommissioning costs vary according to the type and size of reactor, its location, the availability of disposal facilities and the condition of the reactor. The cost of final spent fuel depositories is also still largely unknown.
According to EU Commission data, only three out of the 91 reactors shutdown in Europe have been fully dismantled.
The only repository for spent fuel being dug deep underground in Europe has been under construction in Finland for nearly 40 years and won't be ready until after 2020.
"Not one of the three member states concerned currently has access to such a repository," the auditor said in the report. "Other EU Member States face the same challenges."
A working paper by the European Commission, seen by Reuters in February, showed the bloc was short of more than 118 billion euros needed to dismantle its nuclear plants.
($1 = 0.8945 euros)
(Editing by David Clarke)