Current Status, November 1997: Nuclear power plants in Ukraine

Today, five out of 14 power reactors in Ukraine are shut-down, due to repair works and maintenance. The shut-down reactors are the first and the third power units of Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant (VVER-1000), the third power unit of the South-Ukrainian nuclear power plant (VVER-1000), the single reactor at Khmelnitsky Nuclear Power Plant (VVER-1000) as well as unit three at Chernobyl (RBMK). According to electricity company Energoatom Natioanl, three of these reactors will be back on the grid by the end of this year. Chernobyl’s unit three is planned to be put back in operation in March 1998.

In its 1997 budget, the European Union’s TACIS nuclear safety program has put up 13 million ECU for safety improvments at the Ukrainian nuclear power plants.

A new Russian-Ukrainian joint venture company will provide Ukraine with uranium fuel from Russia. Up till today, Russia has provided Ukraine with nuclear fuel in exchange for all Soviet strategic nuclear weapons stationed in Ukraine. In addition to this 350 million USD pro anno nuclear fuel deal, Ukraine has to pay between 100 and 150 million USD a year for spent nuclear fuel shipments back to Russia for storage or reprocessing.

Ukraine’s nuclear power plants suffer from a severe lack of cash, because their customers are not paying their bills. So far in 1997, the customers have only paid six percent of consumed electricity. Thus, payments in the new deal with Russia will be done by barter of food and metals, in addition to some cash.

Chernobyl

On November 20, an international donor-nations conference in New York will debate the funding of a new sarcophagus to be built over the ruined 4th reactor at Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, as well as a plan to close down the remaining three reactors at the infamous plant. Delegates from 50 nations will participate, with Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma and US Vice President Albert Gore in chair.

The new sarcophagus will cost a total of USD 750 million. So far, the G-7 countries reached an agreement at the "Summit of the Eight" meeting in Denver in June, granting USD 300 million to the project. The European Commission is examining the possibility to grant USD 100 million, while the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development also has provided some money. Even the Czech Republic has offered Ukraine USD 50,000 to upgrade the sarcophagus. Ukraine itself will co-fund the construction with USD 50 million, and cover the USD 100 million needed to service the shelter facility in the course of seven years.

The existing sarcophagus, which was set up after the 1986 disaster, is in very poor condition. Secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defence Council, Volodymyr Horbulin, said to news agancy Interfax that the thorniest technical problem is to remove some 180 tons of waste nuclear fuel from under the current sarcophagus. There exists no technology or equipment at present which could accomplish this.

–The situation at the sarcophagus is not a purely Ukrainian problem, but rather of international character, emphasised Horbulin. At the same time, the Ukrainian nuclear safety inspectorate reported failings in management and safety measures at the operating part of the plant. After a two-week inspection of the operating unit 3, they particularly pointed at violations of personnel radiation protection requirements. Another inspection, conducted by the World Association of Nuclear Operators (WANO), found equipment flaws, inadequate protection against fire and sloppy maintenance at the reactor. Even poor welds on coolant pipes have been reported.

Close-down at Chernobyl

Ukraine’s president Leonid Kuchma has promised to close down the operating reactors (RBMK) at Chernobyl by the year 2000. This promise, however, is not unconditional, and Western aid is among the conditions. –If the terms of the Chernobyl shut-down program are not met, we may decide on upgrading the third power unit for an additional operational period of another 10-15 years, Minister of Environment and Nuclear safety, Yuri Kostenko, told Interfax this Monday.

Among the issues to be discussed by donor countries on November 20, is how to compensate for the loss of power-producing capacity when the Chernobyl plant is closed down.

Existing plans call for two new VVER-1000 reactors to be built, at Khmelnitsky and Rovno nuclear power plants. Construction works on these two reactors were started in the mid-eighties, but were halted after the Chernobyl accident and the collapse of the Soviet Union.

On November 14, Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma and Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Anatoly Chubais discussed possible Russian participation in the construction of the two new power reactors. The VVER-1000 reactors is of Russian design, and 75 % of the parts are produced in Russia. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development has said they would help finance these projects, as part of the deal to close down Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant by the year 2000.

Thomas Nilsen