UKRAINE: Chernobyl closure raises question about future of incomplete nuclear plants

Ukraine's cabinet has agreed to close the only operating reactor at Chernobyl nuclear power station before the end of the year. The decision raises the question of whether two incomplete nuclear power stations in Ukraine will be finished to replace Chernobyl.

A decision to close Reactor 3 of Chernobyl has long been on the cards, with years of wrangling between Ukraine and the Group of Seven countries over how much funding Ukraine would receive if it went ahead with the closure. The decision to shut Reactor 3 came after an agreement last week for Ukraine to receive a total of $700 million (euros 728 million) for the construction of a concrete shell to seal the reactor.

Now, the spotlight is turning to whether Ukraine will secure funding to finish the Khmelnitsky-2 and Rivne-4 (K2R4) nuclear reactors. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) says that it will make a decision on financing based on economic considerations – whether the project is “truly bankable,” as an EBRD spokesperson told edie.

EBRD argues that the completion of K2R4 is likely to be the “least cost development programme for meeting demand on the Ukrainian power system” and that environmental impact assessment has shown no significant dangers. “Assessments of the impacts of predicted discharges from both K2 and R4 during normal operation indicate that the annual radiation dose which could be received by the most exposed member of the public would be substantially less than one percent of the regulatory limit set by Ukrainian regulations,” states EBRD’s summary on the K2R4 completion project.

Greenpeace International says that Ukraine is already generating an excess of electricity and that there is no need to complete K2R4. “Ukraine has massive over-capacity already,” Ben Pearson, a nuclear campaigner with Greenpeace International, told edie. “K2R4 is being proposed as a direct substitute for Chernobyl, but there is no need for that level of capacity. Reactor 3 is frequently shut and it’s been closed for the last three winters – the time of year with the highest electricity demand.”

If Ukraine needed to increase its capacity some time in the future Greenpeace suggests that the first aim should be to increase energy efficiency within the energy sector as a whole, not build more nuclear power stations.

EBRD says its decision regarding K2R4 will also take into consideration whether Ukraine is committed to speeding up reform of its energy sector. The bank wants to see faster reform and cites the following as priorities:

  • fair and even treatment of investors, including creating a stronger regulatory framework
  • further improvement in “cash collection”
  • privatisation of energy distribution companies

There is evidence, according to Greenpeace, that the prospect of more nuclear power stations – in the form of K2R4 – has been foisted on Ukraine by the West and not the other way around. The environmental NGO says that: “In July 1995, the Ukrainian Government presented the gas power plant as its favoured option. Yet, by December a Memorandum of Understanding, signed by the G7 leaders and the Ukrainian president, backed the completion of K2R4. The source of the political pressure for K2R4 is clear – the industrial consortium for K2R4 completion … consists of Germany’s Siemens, France’s Framatom, USA’s Raytheon and Russia’s Atomstroyexport, hungry for millions of dollars worth of contracts to make up for the lack of orders in their own countries”.

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