Projects to decommission Soviet-era nuclear reactors in Bulgaria, Lithuania and Slovakia are falling behind in time and financing, EU auditors warned on Tuesday.
"I am concerned that key decommissioning projects have suffered delays, that financing gaps remain, and that insufficient progress is being made towards final disposal of high-level nuclear waste," European Court of Auditors member Phil Wynn Owen said.
The court reviewed the progress made since 2011 under assistance programmes offered by the European Union, focusing on the Ignalina nuclear power plant in Lithuania, the Kozloduy plant in Bulgaria and the Bohunice plant in Slovakia.
All three countries joined the EU in 2004 on condition that they decommission their Soviet reactors.
The court estimated that the decommissioning will cost at least 5.7 billion euros (6.4 billion dollars) and could reach as high as 11.4 billion euros if the disposal of high-level waste is factored in.
The court found financing gaps in all three countries, with Lithuania missing 1.56 billion euros in financing to cover its decommissioning costs, followed by Slovakia with 92 million euros and Bulgaria with 28 million euros.
"The dedicated EU funding programmes for nuclear decommissioning have not created the right incentives for timely and cost-effective decommissioning," the court said, noting that the deadline in Lithuania has been pushed back to 2038.
The court also found that despite claims by authorities that the nuclear power plants have been "irreversibly closed," work still remains to be done on reactor buildings.
It recommended that future EU funding includes decommissioning incentives, such as time limits.