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The 'Second Backbone Corridor' - High voltage electricity transmission lines, Ukraine

Bankwatch believes that the European Investment Bank (EIB), European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and the EU's Neighbourhood Investment Facility should not support Ukraine’s aspirations to increase its nuclear programme but rather should help the country make use of its vast energy saving potential and to transform its energy sector.

The Second Backbone Corridor - project brief

The massive Second Backbone Corridor is a series of ultra high voltage electricity transmission lines that are planned to connect 3 Ukrainian nuclear power plants (providing the generation) and two hydro pumped storage plants (PSP) (providing storage).

Stretching the length of Ukraine, the corridor would allow for an increase in the nuclear plants' output capacity and would lay the technical groundwork to export electricity to EU.

Both the European Investment Bank (EIB) and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) are and have been involved in several ways:

  • Over the last five years they invested approximately EUR 1 billion in the Ukrainian energy sector, mainly in other high voltage transmission lines that would complement the Second Backbone Corridor
  • Another export-oriented transmission line - Novoodeska-Artsyz - has been re-launched by the EBRD in November 2010 (after it had been stopped because of the constructor’s plans to cross a Ramsar site).

Ukraine's energy strategy – the plan behind the electricity transmission lines

By financing the Second Backbone Corridor project, the EBRD and the EIB would be involved in moving Ukraine and Europe further away from a safe and environmentally friendly energy mix.

How?

The Second Backbone Corridor is a vital part of Ukraine's controversial Energy Strategy till 2030.

Currently under redevelopment by the government, the strategy promotes a nuclear-intensive energy programme and includes several other problematic aspects:

  • assuming a sharp growth in energy demand
    (so far, energy consumption in Ukraine is fairly static)
  • mostly neglecting energy efficiency measures that would reduce Ukraine's immense energy intensity (see alternatives below)
  • more than doubling the energy production from coal (from 43,5 (2005) to 101 million tons of equivalent fuel (2030)) thus increasing the share of coal in the energy mix from 22% (2005) to 33% (2030) and doubling greenhouse gas emissions
  • constructing 22 new nuclear reactors and extending the lifetimes of old reactors currently in operation

(For a detailed criticism of the strategy see the technical analysis (pdf) prepared by Ukrainian NGOs and engineering institutes.)

In short, Ukraine plans to dramatically increase its energy production based on nuclear and coal. The Second Backbone Corridor will be the vehicle bringing this energy to the EU.


Why the EU should not get involved?

Chernobyl and more - nuclear energy in Ukraine is neither safe nor cheap

Nuclear energy and Ukraine are most notoriously synonymous with the meltdown at Chernobyl in 1986. But the nuclear industry is beleaguered by a slew of other dangerous issues:

Disposal of radioactive waste and spent fuel

  • The Ukrainian government has made zero investments in infrastructure for the long-term, safe isolation of spent fuel and radioactive waste.
  • Under the energy strategy that relies on the Second Backbone Corridor, the total amount of spent nuclear fuel and radioactive waste in Ukraine could increase to 200 million tons annually.
  • Neutralization of this hazardous waste could cost exceptional sums – costs which are so far not being mentioned.

Dangerously old nuclear power plants

  • The Second Backbone Corridor will connect 12 nuclear reactors, most of which will reach the end of their lifetime by 2020 and are planned for extensions.
  • The European Commission and the EBRD are even considering getting factually involved in these extensions with a EUR 800 million loan for the Ukraine NPPs safety upgrade programme. (More information on our website.)
  • 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.

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 Ukrainian people.


Alternatives to nuclear are abundant

Alternatives for investment in the Ukrainian power sector are abundant and promise benefits for people and environment in Ukraine:

  • Studies show that energy-saving technologies, coupled with alternative and renewable energy sources, can substitute the nuclear option in developing the Ukrainian power industry. (See for example the alternative energy strategy for Ukraine (pdf))
  • In the electricity transmission field the modernisation of local low-voltage grids (between 110 and 330 kV) should be prioritised. Reducing the current power losses of 11 % (twice as much as the EU average) would have the most direct positive effect on people in Ukraine.
  • Start-up financing for technical solutions to integrate modern renewable energy sources into the outdated electricity grid can help Ukraine increase its share of renewable energy sources.
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