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Tuesday, June 3, 2008

UKRAINE: Nuclear Power Seen As the Answer to Russia

Ukraine is embarking on a costly and inefficient path of nuclear development, hoping it will halt its energy dependence on Russia.

Critical voices are mounting over the feasibility and desirability of Kiev's 'Energy Strategy of Ukraine' released in March 2006 in the wake of a Russian-Ukrainian gas price war.

Ukraine then accused Russia of raising prices as punishment for Ukraine's pro-Western orientation, whereas Russia claimed it had no reason to keep subsidising gas for Ukraine.

Ukraine wants to replace gas with coal and nuclear energy, a plan that includes the construction of up to 22 new nuclear reactors by 2030.

Ukrainian environmental NGOs have criticised the government for not carrying out a broad public discussion before approving the plan.

"The strategy was written during the gas conflict, and the whole idea was to decrease dependency on Russian gas and completely stop using it," Olexi Pasyuk, energy expert at the National Ecological Centre of Ukraine told IPS.

"It's a very unrealistic plan in terms of cost. It was not thought in terms of economic efficiency but rather on how to fulfil energy needs," Pasyuk says. "Even Russia, which is going nuclear, does not plan to build as many reactors."

The plan would imply changing from gas to electricity in house heating, which would require enormous infrastructural investment in a country where every village has pipelines bringing gas.

"Even if it would work, Ukraine cannot have a full nuclear cycle. We have Uranium but you cannot simply use it since Russian technology is required for that," Pasyuk says. "This would still leave us dependent."

Ukraine has the largest volume of discovered Uranium in Europe, but the possibility of enriching it could be politically sensitive for other countries, as it would give it the capacity to build nuclear weapons.

Ukraine also lacks a solution to the issue of waste management, with much of it being sent to Russia for reprocessing. The plan also neglects ecological and energy efficiency questions.

Ukraine's economy is one of the most energy intensive in the world, and is three times more wasteful than the average level within the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD, a group of 30 wealthy nations).

According to the plan Ukraine's energy efficiency by 2030 would be at the present level of neighbouring Poland.

But a positive note in the recent gas spat with Russia is that since the eastern neighbour began increasing prices for oil, gas and uranium for nuclear fuel, there have been attempts at increasing energy efficiency.

The Ukrainian cabinet is not to thank for that: financial incentives and legislative conditions for improved energy efficiency and for developing renewable energies are lacking, according a Bankwatch report released in May. Ukraine's energy strategy also contradicts the country's European ambitions, leaving it half-way from the EU (European Union) goal of bringing the share of renewables in overall energy consumption to 20 percent by 2020.

Pasyuk is hopeful the ministry will back down on its plans. "Informally it is admitting reviewing the strategy, but officially they still deny any problems with it," he told IPS.

Bankwatch has also accused the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) of playing along with Ukraine's pro-nuclear plans by investing in infrastructure which further develops the country's nuclear industry.

The EBRD has hardly provided support to developing renewable energies, in contradiction with its own country strategy for Ukraine, in which it recognised great potential for wind, small hydro and biomass energy production in the country of 48 million.

In a bid to diversify sources, Ukraine's power utility Energoatom recently signed a deal with the U.S. company Westinghouse to import nuclear fuel.

Critics claim that in comparison with Russian fuel Westinghouse's is more expensive, of lower quality, and not tailored for Soviet-designed reactors, increasing risks.

Finnish and Czech nuclear plants had to stop using Westinghouse fuel in the past due to its incompatibility with Soviet-designed reactors.

The Ukrainian public is not enthusiastic over nuclear power ever since in 1986 a reactor of the Chernobyl nuclear plant (in Ukraine area) exploded, causing the biggest civilian nuclear catastrophe ever. But in spite of the Chernobyl tragedy, the nuclear industry remained stable throughout the country's transition from a Soviet republic to an independent state in 1991.

Between 1990 and 1993 the Ukrainian parliament imposed a moratorium on the commissioning of any new nuclear reactors, but power shortages in the early 1990s made nuclear energy attractive again.

Roughly half of current domestic electricity production is of nuclear origin, with the percentage increasing periodically.

While technical problems keep forcing frequent shut-downs at Ukrainian power plants, proponents of nuclear energy say safety has been continuously improving. Last March the Security Service of Ukraine admitted it was stepping up security at nuclear facilities due to instances of negligence. (END/2008)

(Source: IPS News)


Anonymous said...

I think a lot of scholars 'overthink' things. Ukraine just needs to put out a tender to build 25 nuclear plants, and see who can offer the best deal. They can easily put stipulations in the contracts about how much Ukrainian corporations need to be involved and what skill level the companies have to teach Ukrainians.

Not every country needs the full nuclear cycle from mining uranium to advanced enrichment. Canada, Niger, Kazahkstan and Australia are all more then willing to export uranium.


Alexandra Prokopenko said...

Ukraine has a very strong policy of willing to be independent from whoever - they have been dependent on Russia for so long, so they are just tired of it. That is why Ukrainian "quotas" appear.

Anonymous said...

I guess energy is so central to a nation's survival and well being that most nations want to be as independent in energy as possible.

Although while they stall on nuclear, they become even more dependent on Russia for their energy. I do notice anyone willing to pay the market price of natural gas hasn't faced any supply problems.


Alexandra Prokopenko said...

Ukraine was actually signing a contract with Westinghouse for supply of fuel to Russian-made and supplied reactors (VVER type), claiming they want to come out of Russian dependence.
The problem with "market price" for oil and gas is that Russia previously had preferences for the ex-USSR states selling them oil and gas much cheaper. Their economies might collapse if they pay the same price as rich member states (Belarus in particular ended up in a very difficult economic situation last year when the prices for gas rose for them from 46 USD per 1000 cubic meters up to 100 (market price I something above 200 USD). Russia is interested on one hand getting as much as possible out of their "independent" customers, and on the other hand they do not want an economically unstable state on the border. This way they have to find a mutual agreement somehow.

Anonymous said...

Interesting.. another factor might be if ex-soviet nations have to compete against Russian companies. While the Russian companies no doubt get very cheap natural gas.

When was Ukraine last an independent nation before they were taken over by Russia?


Alexandra Prokopenko said...

Ukraine was an independent state in 1917-1920 (after the collapse of Russian Empire and before it entered the USSR), but long before that, in 1654, these lands joined by their free will the protectorate of the kingdom of Moscow, and then the Russian Empire automatically, although enjoyed quite high level of autonomy and even kept their own army.
But even before that, since 1325, Ukraine was part of the Great Dutchy of Lithuania (a country that included modern Belarus, Poland, some of the Baltic states, Ukraine, and even a bit of Russia). And speaking about complete independence, Kiev was on self rule since 882 (and at that time was the largest city in Europe).
To conclude, Russia and Ukraine have a long history of union.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for that history.. it sounds like its been a looong time since Ukraine was an independent self-governing nation. Although they had a lot of autonomy.

I don't blame them for leaving Russia after the nightmare of what the russian communists did to them, but it will be interesting to see if they are able to govern themselves.


Alexandra Prokopenko said...

At least they are trying to. It will take time to learn how to govern a country - now there is still a lot of disorder and non-professionalism.

Atomic Khan said...

There is no problem. Go with CANDU type reactor and use natural uranium without enriching. This technology is simple and Ukraine should have the industrial capacity to get it done. No one can blame Ukrainians to break free from energy extortion. They simply refuse to be the energy slaves like the rest of the world has become. They refuse to further grease the pockets of Russian super rich energy manipulators. I love this rebellious spirit. In the meantime fire up Chernobyl full steam ahead. Just keep drunks, dope heads, and political egoistic men away from the controls and it will be fine.