Magazine article New Internationalist

Back from the Grave: Capitalism Has Hit the Ex-Soviet Union. but Free Markets Are Rarely Free of Politics [West's Attempt to Revive Ukraine's Nuclear Power Plants]

Magazine article New Internationalist

Back from the Grave: Capitalism Has Hit the Ex-Soviet Union. but Free Markets Are Rarely Free of Politics [West's Attempt to Revive Ukraine's Nuclear Power Plants]

Article excerpt

'It's basically the same imperfect design and we'd wind up with the same dangers as Chernobyl'

AT the Chernobyl Museum in the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, solemn-faced schoolchildren examine the documented source of their own ill-health. Evacuees from one of the world's worst nuclear-power accidents weep over photos of their lost homes.

Streets away, a group of Western nuclear experts are working with the Ukrainian energy company Energoatom to complete two substandard nuclear power plants -- with the encouragement of major Western governments and the European nuclear industry. The reactors are planned for Khmelnytsky and Rivne, two small industrial cities 250 kilometres west of Kiev. They are Soviet-designed, 1,000 megawatt, light-water-cooled nuclear plants, generally deemed safer than those at Chernobyl but still far from Western safety standards. 'It's basically the same imperfect design,' says Andrey Odinenko of Greenpeace Ukraine. 'And we'd wind up with the same dangers as Chernobyl.'

The project was agreed in a deal signed by Ukraine, the G7 group of industrial nations and the European Union (EU) in 1995. The G7 pledged to help Ukraine make up for electricity lost when Chernobyl shuts its doors for good next year. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) offered a $190-million loan towards the one-billion- dollar-plus project. That support would open the door to a further $500 million from Euratom, the EU-funded nuclear organization. And the G7 pledged millions more to guarantee payment from Ukraine for reactor parts exported to the country by Western suppliers.

Yuri Kostenko, former Minister for Environmental Protection and Nuclear Safety, says the Government initially suggested a gas power plant 'but experts from the G7 said it would be cheaper' to go nuclear. The reactors at Khmelnytsky and Rivne were started under the old Soviet regime, then abandoned nearly 80-per-cent complete after the Chernobyl disaster.

Western power companies have been keen supporters of the plan, since new orders for nuclear plants in Europe and North America have dried up. Nuclear giants Electricite De France, Tractabel from Belgium and the Finnish firm IVO International are already acting as consultants in Ukraine. Companies likely to win lucrative contracts if work goes ahead include the German corporation, Siemens. A large proportion of the loan package would consist of export guarantees, with Ukraine obliged to buy equipment and services from designated Western firms.

But there are also political motivations. …

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