Why Ukrainian Parliamentarians Started Talking About the Possibility of a Repeat of the Chernobyl Catastrophe

The deputy of the Verkhovna Rada Sergey Shakhov said that some nuclear power stations in Ukraine became “time bombs” due to a lack of control of safety. According to the parliamentarian, he regularly receives complaints from employees of nuclear power plants and such a situation can lead to a repetition of the tragedy that happened in Chernobyl in 1986. Emergency situations happen at Ukrainian nuclear power plants very often. Experts consider that the authorities of the country do not allocate a sufficient amount of financing for this sphere, which leads to a lack of qualified personnel. In addition, in attempt to break off all relations with Moscow Kiev tries to buy fuel elements in the West, however they are not suitable for the reactors constructed by the Soviet specialists.

Problems in the work of a number of Ukrainian enterprises threaten an environmental catastrophe. This was stated on the air of the “NewsOne” TV channel by the deputy of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine Sergey Shakhov. According to him, he regularly receives messages from the employees of enterprises, in particular the Zaporozhye nuclear power plant concerning the dangerous situations that arise due to the lack of control of inspection bodies.


“Thus, they become a mini-Chernobyl, a time bomb. Environmental catastrophe with every step in Ukraine,” said the deputy.

The member of the Council on International Relations under the President of Russia Bogdan Bezpalko in a conversation with RT noted that “this question should be carefully studied, however the danger of a repetition of large technogenic catastrophes in Ukraine indeed exists”.

In turn, the senior research associate of the Center for European Research of the Institute of World Economy and International Relations at the Russian Academy of Sciences Vladimir Olenchenko noted that Sergey Shakhov’s statement speaks about the strong wear of infrastructure in Ukraine.

“Zaporozhye is a densely populated area, a catastrophe at the nuclear power plant will affect not only infrastructure, but also the population. In general, any technological catastrophe will have serious effects on the territory of all Ukraine,” explained the expert in a conversation with RT.

A disturbing situation

Over the past few years there have been regularly emergency situations in Ukrainian nuclear power plants, which lead to shutdowns and the stoppage of power units.

Thus, on July 16th 2016 at the first block of the Khmelnitsky nuclear power plant there was the depressurisation of the first circuit of the block and radioactive coolant entered the steam generator, which led to an abnormal stoppage in the enterprise. This was reported by the deputy from the “Radical Party” of Ukraine Andrey Artemenko.

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Later the work of the second generator stopped several times because of failures in the management system and the protection of the nuclear reactor. In September 2018 the second power unit was switched-off for a scheduled repair (according to the operator of the Ukrainian nuclear power plants of the “Energoatom” company) because of damage sustained by the transformer, but after activation it did not work for weeks. The operation of the block was resumed only on December 14th 2018.

Faults the power plant could have been avoided if in 2017 Kiev did not terminate the Russian-Ukrainian inter-governmental agreement on the construction of the third and fourth power units of the Khmelnitsky nuclear power plant. Now Ukraine continues to search for partners for their construction.

Repeated accidents also happened at the Zaporozhye nuclear power plant that Shakhov mentioned in his speech. Thus, in September 2018 there was an abnormal stoppage at the second power unit, which had to be switched-off in order to repair the main circulation pump. The stoppage of the block caused panic among the population, which the leadership of nuclear power plant blamed the local media for.

Soon after this incident one more power unit at the nuclear power plant – the sixth – was closed. According to the plan of repair work, it should’ve started to work again in January 2019, however is is still deactivated. And in March of this year one more block – the fourth – was switched-off.

In 2016 the academic publication “Energy Research & Social Science” reported that “during many years accidents at Ukrainian nuclear power plants were not registered in the database, despite information about them being available in the state media”.

As a result, the authors of the research came to the conclusion that the probability of a major atomic catastrophe in Ukraine in the upcoming years will reach 80%.

The authorities of Ukraine are not involved in restoring the energy infrastructure because they are incompetent, noted Vladimir Olenchenko.

“In addition, infrastructure needs to be supported financially, but it is necessary to ascertain the fact that the money that was given to Ukraine by the EU and IMF, including for these needs, dissolved in the air. The new government should find out what they were spent on,” said the expert.

Independence instead of safety

The problem of a lack of financing is aggravated also by the refusal of the Ukrainian authorities to use Russian component parts and fuel.

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According to Bogdan Bezpalko, over the last five years Kiev has methodically reduced the volume of cooperation with Russia, including in the field of supplying Ukrainian nuclear power plants with the necessary fuel elements.

“In order to cause damage to Russia and to deprive it of the Ukrainian market, Kiev severed all ties with our country and turned to the bankrupt Westinghouse instead. But the components delivered by this American company are not suitable for the nuclear power plants that were constructed in Ukraine,” said Bezpalko.

As a reminder, in 2008 the Ukrainian “Energoatom” and the American company “Westinghouse” signed a contract on providing from three to six power units of Ukrainian nuclear power plants with VVER-1000 reactors in with nuclear fuel for 2011-2015.

Experts in the field of nuclear power repeatedly criticised such a decision made by the Ukrainian authorities, specifying that the American fuel elements (TVEL) are incompatible with the reactors of Soviet construction. The fuel elements assembled in the US differ in terms of their configuration from the Soviet and Russian analogs. Russia manufactures six-sided elements, and in the US – quadrangular.

Speaking about the use of Westinghouse fuel in Soviet reactors, experts pointed to the experience of the Czech Republic, where such practice also led to regular failures of fuel assemblies, created threats of a catastrophe, and raised energy production costs because of extraordinary stoppages in power units.

In 2016 the use of American fuel at Ukrainian nuclear power plants was also criticised by Mikhail Umanets – the former director of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.

American fuel is put in our power units without the approval of their chief designer. How safe it is, it is difficult for me to judge, only the chief designer has this information. But we all the same have no right to play with nuclear power plant safety, one Chernobyl will be enough for us

Chernobyl tragedy

As a reminder, on April 26th 1986 at the fourth power unit of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant there was a catastrophe that led to a reactor explosion.

The emission of a huge amount of radioactive materials resulted — in Ukraine 50,000 sq.km in 12 regions, in Belarus – 46,500 sq.km, and in Russia – 60,000 sq.km were contaminated. Radioactive emissions also reached Europe.

The remaining three power units gradually stopped, and in December 2000 the station completely stopped its work.

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The first sarcophagus was constructed around the fourth power unit for environment protection with the efforts of about 90,000 people in November 1986. It represented a simple concrete box. It became soon clear that such protection requires replacement.

The construction of a new sarcophagus began only in 2007 and was completed in November 2016.

The donors – among which there were Germany, Russia, Canada, and other countries – spent about €2 billion for the sarcophagus project. In April 2015 the government of the Russian Federation agreed to allocate about €10 million more in addition for the construction of a sarcophagus

Political perspectives

The former adviser of the president of Ukraine Leonid Kuchma, the political scientist Oleg Soskin, in a conversation with RT said that Ukrainian deputies are concerned more by the language issue than the subject of environmental and technogenic safety.

“The Ukrainian population is unaware of the existence of an infrastructure threat. After the war in the East of Ukraine began, the subject of an environmental catastrophe became confidential. Earlier this issue was constantly discussed at environmental, economic, and technological forums. Today there is simply no exact information about the status of the atomic blocks of power plants,” noted the expert.

According to him, in Ukraine there are still zones with non-scrapped radiation and chemical waste from the Soviet period. But the public isn’t aware of the real threat of a technogenic catastrophe with a scale that can be more than the effects of the Chernobyl catastrophe, added Soskin.

“There is nobody in Ukraine to deal with the issue of restoring the energy infrastructure. Poroshenko had no desire to deal with these issues – he only cared about personal enrichment and his Roshen candy factory. In addition, in Ukraine there are simply no professionals who could deal with this problem,” considers the political scientist.

Soskin added that with the administration of Poroshenko leaving office there is hope that the situation concerning the condition of the nuclear power plants in Ukraine will change, however for this purpose it is necessary to wait for real actions from the new president.

“The current situation, perhaps, will change with the coming to power of Vladimir Zelensky. But only if a team that thinks in a new way and understands the scale of a future environmental catastrophe is formed”concluded the expert.

RT Russian

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