Ukraine’s Other Chernobyls
Europe has made huge investments in reviving Ukraine's aging nuclear power plants, despite the considerable dangers they pose. With 12 of Ukraine's 15 reactors set to reach the end of their intended lifetime, it is time for a new approach, aimed at propelling Ukraine toward a safer, more sustainable energy future.
KYIV – In 1983, the Soviet Union inaugurated two nuclear reactors in what is now Ukraine. One of them, unit four at Chernobyl, experienced an explosion and fire three years later that released large quantities of radioactive particles into the atmosphere – a catastrophic accident whose effects are still being felt far beyond Ukraine’s borders. The other reactor, unit one at the South Ukraine Nuclear Power Station, remains in operation, though all indications suggest that it should be retired.
The prolonged operation of unit one and the country’s aging nuclear power plants probably would not have been possible without financial support from European taxpayers, delivered through the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) as part of a €600 million ($650 million) “safety upgrade” program. In defiance of both the Convention on Environmental Impact Assessment in a Transboundary Context (the Espoo convention) and the EBRD loan agreement, the program was undertaken in the absence of any consultation with Ukraine’s European neighbors.
Thanks to these efforts, the South Ukraine plant was granted a ten-year lifetime extension permit in 2013 by the State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate (SNRIU). But, according to a comprehensive study released last month by the National Ecological Centre of Ukraine (NECU), the assessment on which this decision was based was deeply flawed. In fact, the unit one reactor suffers dangerous vulnerabilities, with observed wear in some areas already exceeding tolerable levels by a factor of ten. Such vulnerabilities, the study warns, could result in a nuclear emergency, including a release of radioactive particles inside the unit – or even into the environment.