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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trying to help Ukraine's political transition, Europe's financial support is cementing the country's dependence on an outdated and highly unsafe nuclear sector.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 26, 2016

Il 26 aprile del 1986, nel corso di un esperimento, si registrò un’esplosione al reattore numero 4 della centrale di Chernobyl. Una quantità enorme di sostanze tossiche contaminò l’ambiente.

Bankwatch in the media | April 26, 2016

Эксперт НЭЦУ Алексей Пасюк считает, что приоритетным вопросом в области энергетики Украины является потребление и энергоэффективность.

В 30-ую годовщину аварии на ЧАЭС говорим о будущем энергетики в Украине с руководителем топливно-энергетического направления Национального экологического центра Украины Алексеем Пасюком.

Ольга Веснянка: Является ли уголь альтернативой атомной энергетике?

Bankwatch in the media | April 25, 2016

Ірина Головко розповідає про проблеми України з застарілими атомними енергоблоками та російським паливом. А ще називає популізмом заяву нового міністра екології про створення закритого ядерного циклу

Ольга Веснянка: Який зв’язок між екологією, атомною енергетикою та громадськими кампаніями? І чим займається мережа «Bankwatch»?

Bankwatch in the media | April 25, 2016

CHERNOBYL, Ukraine — It was a fine spring night, people peacefully sleeping as weekday passed into weekend, until Chernobyl’s fourth nuclear reactor blew up.

Oleksandr Galuh recalls that night well.

“My mother woke up as the windows shattered,” Galuh, then a fourth-grader in Pripyat, a town not too far from Chernobyl, remembers. “She thought it was a thunderstorm.”

Bankwatch in the media | April 25, 2016

Or, how Ukraine learned to stop worrying and love its nuclear power plants.

Later this year, the largest movable structure on earth—essentially a colossal steel tomb shaped like an oversized airplane hangar—is scheduled to begin its slow journey along a rail system, traveling at a glacial pace of 33 feet an hour. Its destination: the crumbling ruins of Chernobyl’s reactor number four, which, 30 years after the worst nuclear meltdown in history, continues to ooze radiation like a wound that refuses to heal.


Official document | April 2, 2014

Commissioned by the European Commission, the European Investment Bank assessed the feasibility of a Euratom loan to Ukraine's state-nuclear energy operator Energoatom. This censored version of the document was made available on request.

Study | December 20, 2013

While the EBRD's founding document require it to "promote in the full range of its activities environmentally sound and sustainable development" more than half of the bank’s energy investments in Ukraine for the period 2006-2013 hardly served the purpose of sustainable development promotion. In this period the EBRD has supported nuclear energy production and new output capacities for nuclear power plants, export-oriented infrastructure, as well as controversial initiatives in the renewable energy sector.

Briefing | November 25, 2013

The licence for unit 1 of the South Ukrainian nuclear power plant is going to expire on December 2, 2013. The unit has been stopped already in March 2013 for necessary maintenance and safety upgrade works. The State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate of Ukraine (SNRIU) conditioned the possibility of the unit’s re-start and lifetime extension to a list of measures that need to be implemented.

Advocacy letter | July 1, 2013

This letter, signed by 38 organisations, urges the European Parliament and the Council of Europe and other European bodies to use their political and financial leverage to ensure that the European Commission does not go ahead with a loan for Ukraine's nuclear reactors until Ukraine resolves the issues regarding its non-compliance with the UN Espoo Convention (more background in this press release.

Advocacy letter | June 20, 2013

In March 2013 the Implementation Committee under the UN Espoo Convention ruled that Ukraine's expansion of the lifetime of its old nuclear reactors is in breach of the Convention (more details in our press release). Nevertheless the European Commission plans to decide on a EURATOM loan for the project.