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Nuclear power plant safety upgrades, Ukraine

Ukraine plans to extend the lifetimes of its fifteen, mostly aged nuclear reactors. The EBRD has agreed to finance a Safety Upgrade Programme that is a crucial stepping stone for the plans.

The Rivne nuclear power plant. (Image by Dyakov Vladimir Leonidovich - CC 3.0)

Faced with an immense energy crisis and heavy dependence on fuel imports, Ukraine is looking to extend the lifetimes of its nuclear fleet - with European financial support. But while the dangers of nuclear power in Ukraine are becoming increasingly evident, safer alternatives do not receive sufficient attention.

The EU and the EBRD should help Ukraine with the reactors’ safe closure and decommissioning, while supporting local renewable energy and measures to decrease the enormous energy intensity of Ukraine's economy.


Quick facts

Nuclear power in Ukraine
Nuclear power provides about 50 percent of electricity in Ukraine, but nuclear fuel is imported mostly from Russia.

Reactors & plans:
Ukraine has 15 Soviet-era nuclear reactors in operation and plans to extend the lifetime of all of them. The lifetimes of three reactors have already been expanded. All in all twelve expire before 2020. more >>

Some of the measures included in the Safety Upgrade Programme are necessary for the lifetime expansion of the plants and not for their regular functioning until the initially planned term.

Two European institutions agreed to finance the project with 600 million euros: EBRD (300 million) and EURATOM (300 million). Total project costs are estimated with EUR 1.45 billion.

Future proof:
Ukraine has not saved necessary finances for the closure or decommissioning of reactors. Neither has it accounted for future costs of nuclear waste treatment. more >>


Ukraine’s nuclear reactors: ripe for closure

12 of Ukraine’s 15 reactors were designed to finish operations before 2020; two of them have already got their licenses extended (see table below).

Ukraine’s national energy strategy for 2030 envisages that all of the country’s 15 nuclear reactors will have their lifespan expanded.

The Safety Upgrade Programme (SUP) includes safety modernisation measures for all 15 nuclear reactors in Ukraine and is partly necessary for the reactors’ for lifetime extension, as an independent expert’s review (pdf) has shown.

Nuclear reactors in Ukraine and their lifetimes. (Click image to see larger map or download as pdf.)

Accident at the Rivne NPP - a telling example for the (un)safety of old nuclear reactors

In December 2010, operations at Rivne nuclear power plant’s Reactor 1 were extended for another 20 years in spite of its lifetime having expired. Then just one month later, an accident occurred and the reactor's output was taken down to 50 percent.

While no radiation leaked in this case, the nuclear industry claims safety as long as no terrible accidents like Fukushima happen. Extending the lifetime of Ukrainian nuclear reactors - some of them from the 1970's - will create a situation prone to disaster. The EU should not to get involved in such plans and the risks they pose to the people in Ukraine and beyond.


But even with safety upgrades, with every year of operation after a reactor's lifetime has ended the risk of accidents involving radioactive emissions significantly increases, for instance short circuits or the appearance of cracks in covers of reactor vessels.


Short-sighted and incomplete plans

What to do with radioactive waste and spent fuel?

While investments in the safety upgrade programme are being pushed for with full force, Ukraine’s government has made no preparations for the obvious need to dispose radioactive waste and spent fuel:

  • If the nuclear plans go ahead, the total amount of spent nuclear fuel and radioactive waste in Ukraine could increase to 200 million tons annually.
  • The Ukrainian government has made zero investments in infrastructure for the long-term, safe isolation of spent fuel and radioactive waste.
  • Neutralisation of this hazardous waste could cost exceptional sums – costs which are so far not being mentioned.


Inadequate Environmental Assessment

Breach of international convention

In April 2013, the UN Espoo monitoring body ruled that the extension of licenses for two units at the Rivne nuclear power plant is in breach with the convention because it was done without an environmental impact assessment (EIA) and without informing neighbouring countries about the plans, as Espoo procedures would require.

Read more

The project’s nuclear nature and potential impacts should clearly require a full Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA). But the EBRD agreed on (and funded) only a much narrower Ecological Assessment, which does not pay attention to all the risks and negative impacts posed by the lifetime expansion and provides misleading information as to the objectives of the programme:

  • The role of the safety measures in enabling the lifetime extension of reactors was omitted. This allowed Energoatom not to assess potential risks and impacts of reactors operating beyond their designed lifetime.
  • Alternatives were not properly assessed, including the most obvious of shutting down the reactors at the end of their designed lifetime.
  • Neighbouring states were not informed as required by the Aarhus and ESPOO Conventions.



Risky decisions behind closed doors

Ukrainians were not informed or asked about the plans that will shape the countries energy sector for the coming decades.

Image from a protest action on March 12, 2012 (anniversary of the Fukushima accident).

The decision to continue relying on nuclear power (from Soviet-era reactors) has been made without public oversight, let alone the involvement of Ukraine’s citizens:

  • The Nuclear Power Plants Safety Upgrade Programme is based on the recommendations of a joint study by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the European Commission and Ukraine from 2010.
    The study is a restricted document; the public had no access to the information.
  • Since 2009 Ukrainian legislation does not require an environmental impact assessment (EIA) for the lifetime expansion.
    One year before the first nuclear reactor’s lifetime (Rivne 1) should have expired, the respective law was changed to exclude public and local authorities from the decision-making. Lifetime expansions are now a 'private business' of Energoatom – a situation that contravenes international best-practices in the nuclear energy field.

For more information contact our Ukrainian Bankwatcher Iryna Holovko




Advocacy letter | August 18, 2015

On several occasions the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development stated that operations of its clients should comply with all international treaties and other legal obligations. In spite of these reassurances, Energoatom in Ukraine keeps ignoring its international obligations, as outlined in the Espoo Convention, in the processes of assessing the life-time extension of its nuclear reactors.

Advocacy letter | August 10, 2015

In this letter, Bankwatch asks the European Commission to reconsider the disbursement of the Euratom and EBRD loans for the Ukraine nuclear safety upgrade programme that effectively enables the lifetime extensions at Ukraine's nuclear reactors. The letter provides evidence for the intertwined character of the upgrade programme and the lifetime extensions and for Ukraine's refusal to meet its obligations under international conventions.

Advocacy letter | July 1, 2015

Other versions available:
Scan of the original letter with signatures (pdf)

The request is made in the context of Ukraine's obligations under the Espoo convention, such that the EBRD and EuroAtom should "take steps for suspending the loan proceedings until a full trans-boundary EIA process for nuclear units lifetime extension is launched and carried out in accordance with international treaties to which Ukraine is a party."

Bankwatch Mail | May 14, 2015

Citing 33 safety issue failings, at the end of April Ukraine's nuclear regulator took the decision to suspend operations at Unit 2 of the South Ukraine nuclear power plant by a May 12 deadline, the date marking the end of the plant's design lifetime. Under the terms of the Ukrainian State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate Council's decision, should the state-owned nuclear energy operator Energoatom wish to resume the unit's operations beyond its design lifetime it will have to implement all necessary measures by May 2017.

Briefing | May 12, 2015

The EBRD has denied its role in enabling Ukraine’s ageing units to operate beyond their design lifetime. It has also claimed that through the loan it has important leverage over its client Energoatom to help ensure a proper level of nuclear safety and the compliance with Ukraine’s international commitments in the nuclear energy sector. However, developments in January-May 2015 show the EBRD has been over-optimistic about the role and leverage it has gotten by granting the loan for the safety upgrade project.

Latest developments


Press release | August 28, 2015

A Kiev court held yesterday the first hearing in a case brought by Energoatom, Ukraine’s state-owned nuclear power plants operator, against the National Ecological Centre of Ukraine (NECU), a civil society group, member of the CEE Bankwatch Network.

Press release | July 1, 2015

Twenty-five Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) have signed a letter today urging the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and Euratom to suspend their financial support for Ukraine's ageing nuclear reactors until the potential environmental impacts of their prolonged operation in Ukraine and on neighbouring countries are fully assessed.

The letter is available on the Bankwatch website.

Press release | May 4, 2015

Prague, Kiev - CEE Bankwatch Network and the National Ecological Centre of Ukraine (NECU) welcome the Ukrainian State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate Council's decision at its meeting last Thursday (April 30) to suspend the operation of unit 2 in the South Ukraine nuclear power plant once it exceeds its design lifetime next week. According to the Council's decision, a lifetime extension license for this 30 year old nuclear unit could be considered in the future, but only if all required conditions are met.

Blog entry | April 30, 2015

For safety reasons, Europe must help the Ukrainian government retire, not revive, its nuclear reactors. (This commentary originally appeared on Project Syndicate.)

Blog entry | April 27, 2015

- UPDATING STORY - A Bankwatch fact-finding mission is currently in Ukraine to explore the state of nuclear energy in the country, particularly in light of intentions to extend the lifetime of 12 Soviet-era nuclear units.