Ukraine increasing nuke energy use while getting help at Chernobyl

frontpageingressimage_chernobyl.jpg Photo: Igor Kudrik/Bellona

Kiev’s Kommersant-Ukraina newspaper reported that Ukraine will pursue fuel deals with the United States to fuel its VVER-1000 reactors, which, though of Russian design, Kiev wants to power those reactors with fuel not produced by Russia.

The announcement dovetails an assertion made by Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko last week that his country would double its volume of nuclear power output by 2030, according to RIA Novosti.

Meanwhile, in a somewhat contradictory development, international progress has been made on helping Ukraine secure radiation at the site of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, the world’s worst nuclear accident, by developing an alternative to the cracking cement “sarcophagus” that was hastily dumped over the plant’s melted down reactor No. 4 after it exploded.

Environmentalists and surrounding nations have been apprehensive of increasing nuclear power use in Ukraine as the site of the worst nuclear power plant in history. The new plans for securing radiation at the site of the explosion have been 20 years in the coming.

Heads of the now-decommissioned plant signed deals last week with two international firms to re-engineer the radiation shield, which was revealed by Bellona Web last year to be crumbling and emitting radiation. The French-led Novarka consortium will erect the new shield, which should be completed over four to five years at a cost of $1.65 billion, Reuters reported.

A second deal was signed with US-based Holtec International to build a facility to house spent fuel from the station’s other three reactors. A total of $470.5 million has so far been allocated for that project.

“We are talking about a unique project for this planet. The danger linked to the site of the accident is not confined to Ukraine’s borders,” Yushchenko told participants in a signing ceremony held at Chernobyl.

Increased nuclear output

A presidential spokesman told RIA Novosti of the plans to increase Ukraine’s nuclear output.

"By the year 2030 we plan to double the production of electricity at (Ukrainian) nuclear power plants," said Bohdan Sokolovsky, a presidential advisor, citing Yushchenko.

"The implementation of such an ambitious national strategy requires the participation of our country in international programmes."

The programme to which Sokolovsky was referring was a joint statement in July by Presidents Vladimir Putin and George Bush that they were ready to cooperate in talks about guaranteeing access to civilian nuclear energy for countries in compliance with non-proliferation obligations.

New customer for the Angarsk centre?

In a joint statement adopted following informal talks at the American president’s summer residence at Kennebunkport July 1st and 2nd, Putin and Bush reiterated an approach they said would give access to the benefits of nuclear energy to a growing number of interested countries, while also preventing them from building nuclear weapons.

Their initiatives also envision financial aid for building nuclear power plants, advice on spent fuel storage, and contain obligations to ensure uninterrupted fuel supplies and other commitments.

It is not clear whether Yushenko, or the two presidents were referring to the proposed fuel bank that is to be situated in Angarsk, Siberia. But the fuel bank, to be called the Angarsk International Uranium Enrichment Centre, already had the warm endorsement of US authorities.

A citing mission from the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency is expected to visit Russia to give Rosatom, Russia’s nuclear energy agency, the go ahead tobuild the fuel bank, said agency chief Sergei Kiriyenko last week.

Sokolovksy quoted his boss only as saying further that he believes that the Russian and American initiative to enhance cooperation in the sphere of nuclear energy and non-proliferation is an "up-to-date and very relevant" initiative, RIA Novosti reported.

US fuel deal

Kommersant-Ukraina said Kiev had a Ukrainian National Security Council draft resolution requesting that the country’s Fuel and Energy Ministry use fuel at three of its 15 power blocks that is not from Russia before 2011.

The only alternative fuel for Ukraine’s Russian-designed VVER-1000 reactors is produced in the United States by energy giant Westinghouse Electric Company, which provides fuel, services, technology, plant design, and equipment for the commercial nuclear power industry.

“The (Ukranian) National Security Council’s draft resolution effectively directs Ukraine to buy fuel from Westinghouse, since there is no other fuel suitable for this type of reactor,” said Vladimir Kazashin, head of a Ukrainian Research and Consultation Centre, the paper reported.

Kommersant-Ukraina quoted a high-ranking source at the Fuel and Energy Ministry as saying the resolution stipulates that Ukraine should start buying nuclear fuel from Westinghouse as early as 2009. Ukraine currently operates four NPPs that account for 15 reactors.

Charles Digges