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New study sounds the alarm on safety in Ukrainian nuclear power plants operated beyond their design lifetime

Prague, Kiev - In December 2013, Ukraine's State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate (SNRIU) has granted a 10 years lifetime extension license to unit 1 in the South Ukraine nuclear power plant. But a new independent study reveals critical vulnerabilities in the 32 year old nuclear unit that could have dangerous ramifications.

The study was conducted by CEE Bankwatch's member organisation the National Ecological Centre of Ukraine (NECU) together with technical experts, and an English language summary can be found at

Three of Ukraine's nuclear energy units are already operating beyond their design lifetime, and nine others are expected to be given similar permissions by the State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate (SNRIU) by 2020.

Upgrades, necessary to enable lifetime extensions for these units, are partially financed [1] by loans from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) totalling EUR 600 million.

The new study shows the reactor pressure vessel in unit 1 has several dangerous vulnerabilities that could lead to the appearance of micro-cracks in the vessel's metal casing. According to the study authors, observed wear in a number of elements in the reactor vessel already exceeds tenfold tolerable levels.

Such vulnerabilities, the study warns, could result in a nuclear emergency, including a release of radioactivity inside the unit, or even to the environment in a worse case, if the unit is operated beyond its design lifetime. And since the reactor pressure vessel cannot be upgraded or replaced, its technical condition essentially determines the lifetime of the entire nuclear unit.

The new study also found, that the structural assessment of the reactor vessel was not performed fully, and the state expert's review of nuclear and radiation safety lacked substantiation.

In addition, as part of a governmental decision to suspend all state regulation in Ukraine (with the exception of tax authorities), as of January 2015 SNRIU is prevented from conducting any safety inspections on their own initiative in nuclear energy facilities across the country. And given the current military conflict in the east of the country, the risk is particularly high.

“These findings cast serious doubts over the SNRIU's ability to ensure the safety of Ukraine's nuclear fleet,” says Iryna Holovko, CEE Bankwatch Network's national campaigner for Ukraine. “It is insane to leave nuclear installations without state control. It is also a clear violation of the conditions attached to the EBRD loan. The loan became effective as of December 2014 and it is an important instance for the EBRD now to demonstrate its leverage on the Ukrainian government in the area of nuclear safety.”

In February NECU have raised their concerns on this issue with the EBRD in a letter to the Bank's president (see here: http://bankwatch.org/publications/letter-ebrd-nuclear-inspections-must-c...). The Bank has acknowledged that such limitation to SNRIU’s independence contravenes the conditions of the loan agreement with the EBRD.

Nuclear power plants generate almost half of the electricity supply in Ukraine. The country is almost completely dependent on Russia for its nuclear fuel as well as treatment and storage of most spent nuclear fuel.

Unit 2 in the same South Ukraine nuclear power plant will reach the end of its design lifetime on May 15. By the end of April, SNRIU will have to make a decision on a 20 years lifetime extension license for this unit.

Based on the study findings, NECU demands that Energoatom and SNRIU carry out a comprehensive assessment of nuclear and radiation safety in the South Ukrainian nuclear power plant's unit 1.

“If the results of this additional comprehensive assessment are negative, SNRIU should cancel the lifetime extension license for South Ukraine Unit 1,” says Tatiana Verbytska, energy police expert at NECU. “It is essential to ensure that decisions to extend the lifetime for South Ukraine's Unit 2 and Zaporizhia's Unit 1, expected to be made by SNRIU this year, are based on full data and truly comprehensive assessments. The price of the mistakes in nuclear safety assessments is too high for Ukraine to bear, especially under the current economic situation and a de-facto war in the east of the country.”

Notes for the editors:

1. The first four tenders within the nuclear safety upgrade program, started by the Energoatom under the EBRD tendering procedures, include measures at South Ukraine unit 3 and at four units at the Zaporizhia nuclear power plants. Most of these units expire by 2020 and are planned for prolonged operations.

For more information contact:

Iryna Holovko
National campaigner for Ukraine, CEE Bankwatch Network
Tel.+380 50 647 6700

Tatiana Verbytska
Energy policy expert, NECU
Tel. +380 93 775 0580