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trying to help Ukraine's political transition, Europe's financial support is cementing the country's dependence on an outdated and highly unsafe nuclear sector.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


Blog entry | April 4, 2016

Ahead of a referendum in the Netherlands on the association agreement between the European Union and Ukraine, Olexi Pasyuk from the National Ecological Centre of Ukraine discusses the agreement’s importance for Ukraine’s civil society and why Europe must still improve how it engages with the country.

Bankwatch in the media | March 30, 2016

Aktivisti upozorňujú na vážne bezpečnostné nedostatky starnúcich jadrových kapacít.

V apríli si svet pripomenie 30. výročie najväčšej jadrovej katastrofy v Európe, ktorá sa odohrala v ukrajinskej elektrárni Černobyľ.

Len o niekoľko dní neskôr plánuje ukrajinská Štátna inšpekcia pre jadrový dozor začať proces predlžovania životnosti dvoch reaktorov v najväčšej atómovej elektrárni v Európe v Záporoží na východe krajiny, približne 250 kilometrov od bojovej línie.

Bankwatch in the media | March 29, 2016

Украинская атомная энергетика практически полностью связана с российским атомным комплексом. Все 4 станции с 15 энергоблоками оборудованы реакторами производства РФ ВВЭР-400 и ВВЭР-1000. До 2011 г. все ядерное топливо поставлялось из России компанией ТВЭЛ. Но тренд «гэть від Москви» в полной мере коснулся и этой отрасли, которая на протяжении многих лет в ущерб безопасности подвергается жестоким и опасным экспериментам.

Blog entry | March 9, 2016

Current EU support is not just a distraction from the energy path Ukraine needs to take, it also puts countless communities in Ukraine and abroad at risk.

Bankwatch in the media | February 8, 2016

Nearly 30 years after Chernobyl spewed nuclear dust across Europe and sparked fears of fallout around the globe, a strapped, war-torn Ukraine is opting for "upgrades" rather than shutdowns of its fleet of Soviet-era nuclear power reactors.

Kyiv is planning to spend an estimated $1.7 billion to bring the facilities, many of which are nearing the end of their planned life spans, up to current Western standards.

CEE, nuclear, Ukraine


Briefing | September 30, 2012

This briefing examines how Ukraine can reduce its dependency on nuclear energy, without sacrificing its ability to meet demands. The results show that Ukraine could very well satisfy its electricity needs even when it shuts down expired nuclear power plants, does not built new ones, and neither increases the use of coal in thermal power plants.

Advocacy letter | September 20, 2012

Bankwatch and its members appeal to Viktor Yanukovych, President of Ukraine, to stop the Ukrainian government's plans to construct two new nuclear units at the Khmelnitsky nuclear power plant. The letter asks Yanukovych to use his vetoing power and not sign the relevant law that was adopted by Ukraine's parliament on 6 September 2012, since the law is in direct violation of Ukraine’s international obligations.

Study | June 7, 2012

Cooperation in the energy sector is one of the European Union’s key priorities in its relationships with neighbouring states. Although the promotion of energy efficiency, energy savings and the use of renewable energy sources should be the primary areas of cooperation along with “energy security”, the latter receives the lion’s share of attention and in several cases also a disproportionally large amount of financial support. This can have several negative environmental and social implications as this study shows.

Advocacy letter | June 1, 2012

Due to a number of so far unfulfilled project measures in an EBRD financed safety modernisation project in Ukraine (K2/R4 post start-up safety modernisation programme), Bankwatch has asked the EBRD's Chief Evaluator for a thorough evaluation before further loans for Ukraine's nuclear energy company Energoatom are being considered.

Bankwatch Mail | May 14, 2012

Earlier this year at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Ukraine's president Victor Yanukovych met Thomas Mirow, the EBRD president, with Yanukovych deeming the ongoing cooperation between Ukraine and the bank to be “excellent”. Other than this being a diplomatic pleasantry, when it comes to energy infrastructure projects Ukraine certainly appears to have done very well out of the EBRD: since 2005 the EBRD has committed more than half a billion euros for these projects in Ukraine, in particular for the upgrade and construction of high-voltage transmission lines. Yet the experience for all concerned – including local communities – has been far from excellent, and concerns are mounting that further grid expansion plans could be storing up yet more problems.