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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trying to help Ukraine's political transition, Europe's financial support is cementing the country's dependence on an outdated and highly unsafe nuclear sector.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.

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Quick facts
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.

Read more in our briefing >> (pdf)

Meet the campaigners


Iryna Holovko, Campaign lead, Ukraine
Dana Marekova, Slovakia
Ana-Maria Seman, Romania
Akos Eger, Hungary

 

Key points

  • 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.

Timeline of expiry dates of Ukraine's nuclear reactors
Lifetimes and design lifetimes of Ukraine's nuclear reactors. See larger image >>

Read more:
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.

Read more:
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.

Read more:
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.

 

The Aarhus Convention and the Espoo Convention stipulate that Ukraine must conduct public consultations with neighbouring countries and transboundary environmental impact assessments.

Ten things the Ukrainian government doesn't want you to know about its nuclear energy plans

Read our multimedia story

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.

Read more:
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.

Read more:
Letter to Marco Buti, Director General for Economic and Financial Affairs (pdf)
Policy letter | August 10, 2015

 

Stifling dissent

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.

 

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Latest developments


 

Action alert | June 2, 2016

This action has been brought to a close. Thanks for your support!

While EU energy officials met on Monday, June 6, to discuss the shape of the Energy Union, we were joined by friends from WeMove.eu, equipped with your signatures and personal comments that you left while signing the petition.

EU, EU neighbourhood
Bankwatch in the media | June 1, 2016

Upozorňujú, že predlžovanie životnosti reaktorov sa deje bez splnenia predpísaných bezpečnostných opatrení.

BRATISLAVA. Ochranári v stredu doručili ministrovi životného prostredia Lászlóovi Sólymosovi (Most-Híd) list, v ktorom ho informujú o podľa nich závažnej situácii jadrových reaktorov na Ukrajine a vyzývajú ho, aby konal. Informovala o tom nezisková organizácia Človek v ohrození.
Má vážne finančné ťažkosti

Bankwatch in the media | May 29, 2016

Захватив украинский рынок ядерного топлива, Westinghouse не только получил дополнительные доходы, но и экспериментальную площадку для совершенствования собственной продукции, что позволит ей впоследствии выйти на другие европейские рынки.

Blog entry | May 18, 2016

Three decades after Chernobyl, nuclear power remains a mainstay of Ukrainian energy supply. Despite persistent safety problems, the Ukrainian government has approved lifetime extensions for four of its 15 nuclear units since 2010, and two more could be greenlighted later this year. What is more, Ukraine’s nuclear sector survives in part thanks to European support. The EU needs to stop supporting Kiev’s risky nuclear energy programme.

Bankwatch in the media | April 29, 2016

Cu cele două reactoare nucleare ale sale, România nu poate sta departe de controversele legate de explozia de la Cernobîl. Mii de români au suferit din cauza radiaţiilor de acum 30 de ani. Alţii se tem de un posibil nou accident. Autorităţile spun totuşi că în ţara noastră accidentele nucleare sunt imposibile. Pe plan internaţional, terorismul este văzut ca principala ameninţare pentru o centrală atomică, iar în România s-au făcut doar calcule teoretice privind rezistenţa reactoarelor de la Cernavodă.

Publications

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 | August 10, 2015

The European Commission stated in an earlier letter that any decision by Ukraine to extend the life-span of any of its nuclear power plants will require assessment under the Aarhus and Espoo Conventions. In this letter, Bankwatch offers evidence for how Ukraine is indeed extending the lifetimes of its nuclear reactors but not meeting its obligations under the conventions.

Advocacy letter | July 1, 2015

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.