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Ukraine’s nuclear industry in crisis – corrupt, unsafe, with politicised decision-making

Could Ukraine’s nuclear industry face another Chernobyl?

Thirty-five years after the disaster, the nuclear industry is Ukraine’s most reliable economic lifeline. But critics say it faces a perennial crisis caused by corruption, safety problems and politicised decision-making. Aljazeera, By 

Mansur Mirovalev, 26 Apr 2021  ”…………………. The nuclear industry remains Ukraine’s most reliable economic lifeline.

But domestic and international critics claim that the industry faces a perennial crisis caused by corruption; safety problems with ageing, worn reactors; disruption of ties with a Russian nuclear monopoly; and a politicised switch to US-made nuclear fuel.

Industry insiders, environmentalists and politicians claim that the construction of a spent fuel storage facility near the capital, Kyiv, and the proximity of Europe’s largest nuclear station in the southern city of Zaporizhzhia to Europe’s hottest armed conflict add to their concerns about the possibility of a nuclear incident, particularly in a nation that went through two popular uprisings since 2005 and lost a chunk of its territory to Russia.

……….. uranium dioxide sealed in zirconium alloy tubes in the rods emits radiation that has to be contained in hermetically sealed reactors. Ukraine’s Soviet-designed rods are hexagonal, resembling bee cells, while Western-made rods are square.

The switch is far from simple – but necessary, because Rosatom, Russia’s nuclear monopoly that charged Ukraine hundreds of millions of dollars a year, is controlled by the Kremlin. And the Kremlin has a well-known proclivity to use energy supplies as a political cudgel.

The switch to Westinghouse fuel is potentially dangerous,” Oskar Njaa, the Russia and Eastern Europe adviser for Bellona, a Norway-based nuclear industry monitor, told Al Jazeera.

In 2012, Westinghouse fuel rods had to be removed from the South Ukrainian power station after protective envelopes in two reactors were damaged.

Ukraine asked Rosatom for fuel and help – prompting Russian President Vladimir Putin to remark gloatingly that Rosatom experts had “to solve complex technical problems, take [the Westinghouse fuel] out and load the Russian fuel back in”.

Ukraine’s losses amounted to $175 million, Mikhail Gashev, Ukraine’s top nuclear safety inspector at the time, claimed – and banned the use of Westinghouse fuel.

Ukrainian experts doubted his assessment, and his decision was overturned after he was fired among hundreds of pro-Russian officials following Ukraine’s second anti-Russian popular uprising, the 2014 Revolution of Dignity.

Former Prime Minister Nikolay Azarov, another pro-Russian political figure who fled Ukraine after the revolt, said in 2017 that the decision was made “in spite of Ukraine’s security interests”.

Westinghouse modified the rods – and no further incidents were reported.

“That might be a sign of a better culture for safety and security in the industry,” Njaa said adding that his group is, however, “worried that incidents might become more severe and greater in numbers due to the ageing equipment at the plants.”………

Apart from the fuel, observers are also concerned about Ukraine’s ageing, worn reactors, 12 of which began operating in the 1980s and were supposed to be shut down in 2020. But Energoatom extended their lifespan spending hundreds of millions on each, thanks largely to loans from the European Union.

This is a common practice worldwide – the average lifespan of almost 100 nuclear reactors in the US is 40 years, and 88 have been approved for another 20 years. But some experts are worried about the safety measures and upgrades.

“What we witness every time a decision [to extend the lifespan] is made, some of the safety upgrades have either not been made or have not been made in full,” Iryna Holovko, the Ukraine coordinator for Bankwatch, a Prague-based environmentalist group, told Al Jazeera.

Bankwatch has for years been urging Ukraine to stop extending the lifespan of its “zombie reactors” without correcting “safety deviations” and detailed assessments of all the environmental risks for the people living around the stations and in neighbouring nations……….

The fuel switch brought about another problem; unlike Rosatom, Westinghouse does not take the spent fuel back for processing or storage.

Until December, Ukraine had two pretty problematic storage facilities – and an unfinished third one. One at the shut-down Chernobyl station is almost full. At the second one, an open-air yard outside the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, thousands of spent fuel rods are stored in ventilated concrete containers. In 2014, the plant was about 200 kilometres (125 miles) southwest of the front line of the separatist conflict.

The sight was horrifying to a visiting expert.

“I suddenly stood in front of the utterly unprotected interim storage,” Patricia Lorenz of Friends of the Earth, an environmentalist group that visited the plant on a fact-finding mission in 2014, told Al Jazeera. “It is basically unprotected against war and terrorism, while the front was close by back then.”

In May 2014, the station’s security and police turned away dozens of armed and masked far-right nationalists who tried to enter the plant to “protect” the station from the separatists.

Since then, the front line has moved eastward, and in December, Energoatom opened a third facility a mere 70 kilometres (43 miles) north of Kyiv, in the Chernobyl exclusion zone that is scheduled to receive the first batch of spent fuel in June.

But plans to transport spent fuel via Kyiv, the city of more than two million, drew sharp criticism.

“This will be happening in a country where everything turns upside-down, collides, explodes, and where lawlessness rules,” Kyiv-based environmentalist Vladimir Boreiko told reporters…………….  https://www.aljazeera.com/features/2021/4/26/does-ukraines-nuclear-industry-face-another-chernobyl

April 29, 2021 - Posted by | politics, safety, secrets,lies and civil liberties, Ukraine

1 Comment »

  1. Terrifying! I am from, one of the worst nuclear sacrifice zones in the world! Small town. Three of my quaker sisters died of lung cancer out of 20 quakers. One was 35 her mom at 58 and our leader at 59. Makes me so sad. The mom and daughter died within a year of each other. Annie died in 1990. Sickeing. They continue to lie profusely mayak, chernobyl fukuahima 3 mile santa susana. Yada yada yada

    Comment by Anon | April 30, 2021 | Reply


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