This Post was submitted by Climate Scorecard Ukraine Country Manager Anastasiia Bushovska
Nuclear power plants produce 52.6% (data of 2020) of Ukrainian electricity. Currently, there are 15 nuclear reactors and 9 of them have terms expiring in the next 10 years. These reactors were built at the end of the 1970s and 1980s with an expiration period of 30 years. Out of a total of 15, 12 reactors (that is 80% of produced nuclear power energy) have had their expiration terms prolonged for an additional 10 or even 20 years.
Although uranium ore is extracted in Ukraine, it is enriched elsewhere. As most reactors were built with Soviet technologies, there are specific requirements for fuel cells. 3 out of 15 reactors work exclusively on fuel supplied by Japanese-American company Westinghouse, the rest mostly relies on Russian fuel. Ukraine refused to enrich iron ore and recycle nuclear waste after ratifying the Convention on Nuclear Safety, designed to prevent nuclear weapon production.
There are also plans to finish the building of 2 reactors at the Khmelnytskyi Nuclear Power Plant; their construction started in the 1980s but stopped after the Chernobyl catastrophe. There is no certainty whether it is safe to build upon old constructions and nuclear authorities and international experts warn that these reactors will be outdated, not complying with modern standards.
Nuclear energy is expected to facilitate the transition to a carbon-neutral economy. According to Ukraine’s Energy Strategy, new reactors are going to be constructed starting in 2022 to substitute for those that will be decommissioned after 2030. Still, additional construction of nuclear power plants depends on energy demand, which may become lower due to depopulation.
On top of the Energy Strategy and Ratified Convention, Ukraine has multiple laws and regulations for nuclear energy production including:
- Safety requirements during the handling of nuclear fuel.
- Laws on the use of nuclear energy and nuclear safety.
- Laws on physical protection of nuclear reactors, nuclear materials, radioactive waste, and other sources of ionizing radiation.
- Laws on civil responsibility for nuclear damage and its financial securement.
- Laws on permitting activity in the use of nuclear energy.
- Laws on handling nuclear waste.
- Laws on the ordering of issues related to securement of nuclear safety.
- Laws on the sequence of decision-making on location, designing the buildings that house nuclear reactors and objects for handling nuclear waste which have national importance.
- Laws on uranium ore extraction and processing.
- The Nuclear Code of Ukraine.
The National Energy and Utilities Committee is often pressured to keep the price for nuclear energy low because not all externalities are considered in the price. For example, the price of decommissioning a nuclear reactor is underestimated—as is the cost of nuclear waste management.
The management and disposal of nuclear waste has been a challenge in Ukraine.
The Central Storage of Spent Nuclear Fuel is under construction in the Chernobyl exclusion zone and the first section of it was already finished at the end of 2020. It is expected to accept the first batch of waste in July 2021. 14 sections are still planned to be constructed. The storage takes place on a concrete field where waste is aimed to be held in the open air in stainless-steel containers. The waste will be held with 2-barrier dry technology, which implies conservation with inert gases in containers with passive air cooling contained in protective concrete modules. The technology was approved by US NRDC and corresponds to the nuclear safety standards of Ukraine. This is a temporary solution (for up to 100 years) before a long-term efficient utilization strategy will be chosen.
Hundreds of thousands of people suffered and dozens of thousands got displaced because of the Chernobyl catastrophe on 26 of April 1986. The catastrophe was around one of the reactors exploding twice and melting down. The reasons are still discussed, but for now, the main reasons are considered to be miscalculations of plant developers and staff errors.
Considering the story of Chernobyl, it becomes risky to experiment with nuclear plants, including endlessly prolonging the expiration terms of the reactors. Also, considering that still there is no solution to the utilization of nuclear waste, which will be radioactive during the next hundreds or even thousands of years, decisions undertaken today will impact the lives of our future generations. We need to prioritize people lives and safety.
Image source: https://ecoaction.org.ua/ua-ne-treba-chornobyliv.html