Zombie reactors in Ukraine
While the European Union is trying to help Ukraine's political transition, Europe's financial support is cementing the country's dependence on an outdated and highly unsafe nuclear sector. To avoid further instability and political and environmental risks, European institutions need to offer better oversight and funding for alternative energy sources.
Ukraine's so-called 'nuclear safety upgrade programme' is necessary to keep Ukraine's ageing nuclear reactors working longer than they were designed to.
Costs: estimated with EUR 1.45 billion
Public financing: EUR 600 million (300m each from Euratom and EBRD), partially disbursed
Bankwatch calls on European institutions to re-direct their funding towards safer and sustainable energy solutions.
Meet the campaigners
Iryna Holovko, Campaign lead, Ukraine
Dana Marekova, Slovakia
Ana-Maria Seman, Romania
- Design lifetime of 12 soviet-era nuclear reactors ends before 2020. Four lifetimes already prolonged, same is planned for the rest. more >>
The safety of Ukraine's reactors cannot be guaranteed: vicinity to armed conflict, accidents and safety issues. more >>
- EUR 600 million from European institutions supports programme crucial for these plans. more >>
- Government is stifling dissent, breaching international law. Potential implications for Ukraine’s transition and EU relations. more >>
- Supply and disposal of nuclear fuel mean continued dependence on Russia more >>
Ukraine's nuclear timebomb
Ukraine has 15 soviet-era nuclear reactors built during Soviet times. 12 were designed to be shut down by 2020.
Kyiv is determined to keep all reactors running for at least ten years beyond their expiry date.
The lifetimes of four reactors have already been expanded without completing necessary safety upgrades, without properly assessing all risks and without considering sustainable alternatives.
Lifetimes and design lifetimes of Ukraine's nuclear reactors. See larger image >>
Europe's false solutions for Ukraine's energy woes
Blog post | March 9, 2016
Safety cannot be guaranteed
Europe's biggest nuclear power plant in Zaporizhia is located only 250 kilometres from the frontlines of the ongoing armed conflict in eastern Ukraine.
As the chief specialist for nuclear reactors at Zaporizhia confirms, nuclear power plants were not designed for war.
Ukraine Nuclear Safety Upgrade Programme: loan conditions not met
Briefing | January 21, 2016
Video snippet: Sergei Shygyn, chief specialist for nuclear reactors at the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant
Between 2010 and 2015 alone, three different nuclear units were forced to shut down due to accidents. Severe safety issues were identified in two more units.
Europe's support for Ukraine's nuclear gamble
Rather than helping Ukraine to retire its nuclear fleet and chart a new, sustainable energy course, Europe is helping perpetuate an outdated and dangerous energy source.
Two European public lenders, Euratom and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, approved loans over EUR 300 million each for a so-called 'safety upgrade' project necessary to keep Ukraine's ageing nuclear reactors running.
For comparison, EUR 600 million is nearly a quarter of the total EU support (excluding Euratom) to Ukraine’s energy sector between 2007-2014.
What is worse, Ukraine unilaterally decided to postpone the safety upgrades. While safety is being delayed, the ageing reactors continue their operations.
Ukraine snubs safety concerns and European donors, extends lifetime of fourth Soviet-era nuclear reactor
Press release | December 8, 2015
Teaser trailer for "No safe atom". Turn on subtitles in the settings on the bottom right.
Watch the full 11 minute film on YouTube >>
Stifled dissent, no public control
Despite the EU’s financial support, Ukraine’s government gets away with stifling dissent and breaching international law. This could have far reaching implications for Ukraine’s transition and its relations with EU countries and the EU.
Breach of international law
In April 2013, the UN Espoo monitoring body ruled that Ukraine had breached the Espoo Convention when extending the licenses for two units at the Rivne nuclear power plant. The decision was taken without a transboundary environmental impact assessment (EIA) and without informing neighbouring countries about the plans, as Espoo procedures would require.
Ukraine's Nukes Are in Breach of UN Convention
Press release | April 22, 2013
The governments of Slovakia, Romania, and Hungary have asked Ukraine for information on its nuclear power plans, requesting Ukraine to initiate public consultations in neighbouring countries. So far, Ukraine denies these requests (see responses to Slovakia and Hungary).
Also the European Commission stated in a letter (pdf) that Ukraine must adhere to the Aarhus and Espoo conventions. So far, however, it has taken no steps to make Ukraine's government comply.
Letter to Marco Buti, Director General for Economic and Financial Affairs (pdf)
Policy letter | August 10, 2015
In 2015, Ukraine's state-owned nuclear operator Energoatom sued civil society organisation National Ecological Centre of Ukraine (NECU), alleging that NECU had published misleading information about safety standards at unit 2 of the South Ukraine nuclear power plant. Bankwatch's member group NECU was forced to post a retraction on its website.
Despite the case attracting international attention, the Ukrainian government appears keen to block public debate, both at home and abroad.
Dependence on Russia
Ukraine's dependence on Russian gas supplies is often used to defend the support for nuclear energy. But all of Ukraine's nuclear reactors use Russian technology and are almost entirely dependent on nuclear fuel from Russia.
Spent fuel is sent back to Russia, providing ample opportunity for Russia to put pressure on Ukraine, which has so far made no investments in infrastructure for the long-term, safe isolation of spent fuel and radioactive waste.
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.
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.
Ukraine has not saved necessary finances for the closure or decommissioning of reactors. Neither has it accounted for future costs of nuclear waste treatment.
The loan decisions have been postponed several times for almost a year. The EBRD approved its loan on March 12, 2013, while Euratom's decision is still outstanding.