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Nuclear power plant safety upgrades, Ukraine

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


Latest developments


Press release | December 8, 2015

Kiev, Prague - An ageing nuclear unit in the South Ukraine power plant is the latest to have its expiry date rewritten by overzealous Ukrainian authorities, despite a number of pending safety issues and concerns over compliance with international treaties.

Press release | November 17, 2015

EU leaders repeatedly voice commitments to spearhead the global effort to tackle climate change, primarily through long-term decarbonisation targets. But a Bankwatch research into the EU's development funds for neighbouring regions finds that considerably more European taxpayer money is supporting fossil fuels than facilitating a sustainable energy transition.

Press release | October 29, 2015

Kiev - Today a Kiev court ruled in favour of a defamation lawsuit brought by the Ukrainian state against a civil society organisation, thus backing the government's attempts to suppress public debate on the country's ageing nuclear fleet.

Blog entry | October 21, 2015

Nuclear safety activists in Ukraine who face defamation charges by the state nuclear operator Energoatom received support from Rebecca Harms, a member of the European Parliament, recently.

Campaign update | October 14, 2015

On October 14, the World Development Information Day, Bankwatch and our partners People in Peril joined an event in Bratislava of the Slovak Platform of development NGOs with stories, pictures and international cuisine.

Students, journalists and politicians watched our photo-exhibition "Nuclear Ukraine". We explained how "development can go wrong" and why the Ukraine's ageing nuclear reactors require public engagement of citizens in the region.

See images from the event below.


Bankwatch Mail | December 17, 2015

An ageing nuclear unit in the South Ukraine power plant has become the latest to have its expiry date rewritten by Ukrainian authorities, despite a number of pending safety issues and concerns over compliance with international treaties.

Briefing | November 17, 2015

Between 2007-2014, Ukraine received from EU public institutions over EUR 2.5 billion for 56 projects in the country’s energy sector. This is the highest amount of support for the energy sector among all countries of the European Neighbourhood Policy, both by volume and number of investments. Only 15 per cent of that support went to combating inefficient energy use or to developing local sustainable energy sources. The focus of EU financial support has remained on ‘traditional’ sources of energy.

Leaflet | November 17, 2015

A Bankwatch research into the EU's development funds for neighbouring regions finds that considerably more European taxpayer money is supporting fossil fuels than facilitating a sustainable energy transition.

This infographic belongs to a report presented in November 2015 to the European Parliament.

See the report's excutive summary >>

Advocacy letter | August 17, 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.