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trying to help Ukraine's political transition, Europe's financial support is cementing the country's dependence on an outdated and highly unsafe nuclear sector.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



Latest developments


Bankwatch in the media | April 27, 2016

Immer noch sterben Menschen in der Ukraine, aber auch den Nachbarstaaten an den Folgen der Havarie in Tschernobyl. Teile der Ukraine und Weißrusslands bleiben nach wie vor kontaminiert. Die Regierung in Kiew setzt aber trotzdem auf Atomkraft - aus Bequemlichkeit, kritisieren die Experten. 15 Reaktoren gibt es insgesamt in der Ukraine. Sie liefern die Hälfte der Elektrizität des osteuropäischen Landes. Für die ältesten Reaktoren, gebaut noch von den Sowjets, planen die ukrainischen Machthaber die Laufzeitverlängerungen. Die Umweltschützer schlagen Alarm.

Bankwatch in the media | April 26, 2016

Les voix que nous entendons approchent Tchernobyl en racontant l’histoire qui a traversé leur famille ou leur corps, tentent de saisir la catastrophe par un film, un texte, des objets collectés dans les maisons évacuées.

Un documentaire de Marie Chartron et Vincent Decque

Prise de son : Raymond Albouy

Bankwatch in the media | April 26, 2016

KIEV, April 26 (Xinhua) -- Thirty years have passed since the Chernobyl power plant disaster, one of the world's worst nuclear accidents, which has caused widespread environmental pollution and left the areas around the plant uninhabitable for centuries or even millennia to come.

The anniversary of the catastrophe is another reminder that nuclear energy could become a major threat to the world if it is not handled with care and caution. Yet, many experts argue that currently, nuclear power is much safer than it was three decades ago and its role in Ukraine's energy mix is irreplaceable.

Bankwatch in the media | April 26, 2016

KIEV, April 26 (Xinhua) -- Tuesday marks the 30th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in today's Ukraine, but many painful lessons have not been learned.

In March 2011, the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan was disabled after explosions, a top-level disaster.

Some Ukrainian nuclear safety experts believe that the Fukushima tragedy was preventable given the Chernobyl experience, but human negligence had left the plant unprepared for the earthquake and tsunami.

Bankwatch in the media | April 26, 2016

В ефірі телеканалу Еспресо Ірина Головко - національний координатор "CEE Bankwatch Network" в Україні у сфері енергетики, еколог.


Advocacy letter | March 30, 2015

In this letter 46 non-governmental organisations alarm European Union representatives involved in the decision-making at the EBRD and Euratom to the fact that Ukraine is pressing ahead with its plans to extend the life-time of its old nuclear reactors even though they are in breach of international law (Espoo Convention) and without proper impact assessments and despite UKraine's obligations under the loans provided by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and Euratom.

Briefing | March 17, 2015

This independent study reveals critical vulnerabilities in the 32 year old nuclear unit 1 in the South Ukraine nuclear power plant, whose lifetime was extended by 10 years in December 2013. The study shows the reactor pressure vessel in unit 1 has several dangerous vulnerabilities that could lead to the appearance of micro-cracks in the vessel's metal casing. The observed wear in a number of elements in the reactor vessel already exceeds tenfold tolerable levels.

Advocacy letter | February 16, 2015

In a bid to help the recession-hit Ukrainian economy, the country’s government has significantly reduced regulatory obligations for businesses and state-owned companies. This includes Ukraine’s nuclear power plants which have been plagued in the recent past by ageing reactors and accidents and whose safety upgrades are receiving support from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and Euratom. In this letter Ukraine Bankwatch member group is asking the EBRD to pressure the government to ensure that the Ukrainian state nuclear regulator SRNIU is able to carry out inspections of nuclear power plants.

Bankwatch Mail | May 14, 2014

Twenty years of limited – if not downright poor – transitional progress has demonstrated the inability of European and global institutions to effectively impact development processes in Ukraine.

Briefing | May 9, 2014

Public finance can play a role in ensuring nuclear safety and the transparency and accountability of government decisions related to nuclear energy by encouraging governments to fully apply Espoo procedures at earlier stages of the programme or plan and to provide more information about loan conditionalities. However, only a limited positive effect has been seen in Ukraine due in part to a lack of transparency by the financial institutions and to the selective application of convention requirements.