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Thursday, April 3, 2008

Ukraine's nuclear authorities are playing with fire

Ukrainian politicians have made one more move aimed at easing their dependence on Russia's nuclear fuel supplies.

In late March, Ukraine's nuclear power company Energoatom signed a five-year contract with U.S.-based Westinghouse Electric Company to provide nuclear fuel to three Ukrainian reactors at the Yuzhnoukrainsky nuclear power plant in 2011-2015.

Last year, it held energetic talks with Canadian companies on the construction of CANDU (CANada Deuterium Uranium) reactors, the older relatives of the Chernobyl reactor, which exploded in 1986.

These two instances show Ukraine's desire to ease its dependence on Russia. Ukraine has 15 VVER water-moderated water-cooled reactors built during Soviet times, which use fuel imported from Russia. Westinghouse is to supply 630 fuel assemblies for the annual recharging of at least three VVER blocks.

Although diversification is a noble goal, the operation of nuclear power plants is highly complicated. Safety alone should encourage Ukraine to use nuclear fuel for which its nuclear power plants were designed, i.e. fuel made in Russia.

The Chernobyl tragedy should have been enough warning for Ukraine, but political ambitions have proven to be stronger than fear.

Khusein Chechenov, a member of the Russian parliamentary subcommittee on nuclear energy, said, "It was a political decision taken without due regard for economic or scientific considerations."

According to him, the contract is a mistake made deliberately to spite Moscow.

Westinghouse's fuel assemblies are 25% more expensive than those provided by Russia's TVEL Corporation and their quality is questionable. Ukraine acted impulsively, signing the contract with the U.S. company during negotiations on Russian fuel deliveries after 2010.

The contract includes quite a few reservations, such as Ukraine's right to terminate it if its regulators do not permit the use of American fuel, or if the assemblies malfunction.

(read more)

(Source: RIA Novosti)

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