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trying to help Ukraine's political transition, Europe's financial support is cementing the country's dependence on an outdated and highly unsafe nuclear sector.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


 

Blog entry | October 21, 2015

Nuclear safety activists in Ukraine who face defamation charges by the state nuclear operator Energoatom received support from Rebecca Harms, a member of the European Parliament, recently.

Campaign update | October 15, 2015

On October 14, the World Development Information Day, Bankwatch and our partners People in Peril joined an event in Bratislava of the Slovak Platform of development NGOs with stories, pictures and international cuisine.

Students, journalists and politicians watched our photo-exhibition "Nuclear Ukraine". We explained how "development can go wrong" and why the Ukraine's ageing nuclear reactors require public engagement of citizens in the region.

See images from the event below.

Bankwatch in the media | September 30, 2015

Asociaţia Bankwatch Romania şi guvernul ţării noastre atrag atenţia că Ucraina desfăşoară programe nucleare asupra cărora planează suspiciunea că încalcă tratatele internaţionale.

Bankwatch in the media | September 30, 2015

Ukrajina chce predĺžiť životnosť jadrových reaktorov, slovenská vláda chce vedieť viac, ale Kyjev napriek záväzkom mlčí.

Ukrajina práve rozhoduje o nebezpečnom projekte. Hlasy domácich kritikov sa snaží umlčať a susedné vlády, vrátane tej našej, ignoruje. Bezpečnostný garant a financmajster veľkej časti projektu, Európska komisia, žiaľ, vysiela nejasné signály.

CEE, nuclear safety
Press release | August 28, 2015

A Kiev court held yesterday the first hearing in a case brought by Energoatom, Ukraine’s state-owned nuclear power plants operator, against the National Ecological Centre of Ukraine (NECU), a civil society group, member of the CEE Bankwatch Network.

Publications

Briefing | May 15, 2011

In November 2010 the EBRD, together with the European Union, announced its involvement in the EUR 1.2 billion Nuclear Power Plant (NPP) safety upgrade project for Ukraine. While safety upgrades at first appear a positive initiative, this project makes sense only in the context of NPP lifetime extensions, otherwise there is no reason to finance costly upgrades for facilities that will anyway close in a couple of years. And though the project promoter clearly links these safety upgrades with lifetime extensions, the EBRD is reticent to do so.

Leaflet | April 26, 2011

In 2010 Ukraine joined the European Energy Community to integrate into the European electricity and gas markets. The Ukrainian government is looking to the EU and international financial institutions to sponsor a warily nuclear-intensive, export-oriented energy program.

Study | April 26, 2011

As the world marks the 25th anniversary of the world's worst nuclear disaster at Chernobyl and against the backdrop of the threat from Fukushima's nuclear facilities, our study reveals that the European Commission, the European Investment Bank (EIB) and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) are indirectly supporting lifetime extensions of old Ukrainian nuclear reactors as a means to secure 'cheap' Ukrainian electricity exports to the EU Member States.

Briefing | March 15, 2011

Over the past few years, a series of strategies, agreements and loans have brought the EU and Ukraine into closer cooperation on perpetuating nuclear and carbon-intensive energy infrastructure and generation, with international financial institutions (IFIs) brokering the deals.