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BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Hungary's nuclear watchdog withheld permits for two new reactors at the Paks nuclear power plant pending additional information from the Russia-led project's managers, further hampering a planned expansion beset by years of delays.
The government wants to more than double the two-gigawatt plant's capacity with two new 1.2 GW VVER reactors. A 10 billion euro ($11.6 billion) loan from Moscow is financing most of the 12.5 billion euro project, which is being led by Russian state atomic energy corporation Rosatom.
Awarded to Rosatom in 2014 without a tender and often cited as an example of the warm ties between Hungarian Premier Viktor Orban and Russian President Vladimir Putin that have unnerved the West, the project was initially delayed by a lengthy European Union review focused on its financing.
After a 15-month-review of the new bloc's construction documentation, Hungary's Atomic Energy Authority said on Thursday it would seek additional information from the company managing the project, Paks II Atomeromu Zrt, before granting approval.
"For the authority to be reassured that all conditions are fully met, further assessments and analysis are needed in some areas," it said in a statement on its website.
Without specifying further, it said it was also taking into account recommendations from a parallel International Atomic Energy Agency review.
Hungary has amended its nuclear safety protocols to allow some work to begin before the entire expansion - initially planned to start in 2018 and with the first bloc set for completion in 2025 - got the regulatory nod.
It was unclear how much more the latest setback could delay construction of a project still in its preliminary stages and on which Russia this year agreed to delay payments for five years.
($1 = 0.8634 euros)
(Reporting by Gergely Szakacs; editing by John Stonestreet)