Ukraine stumbles on

29 April 1999

Ukraine’s nuclear energy company Energoatom ordered electricity output to be cut at Zaporozhye and South Ukraine NPPs on 25 March because of fuel shortages. Unit 1 at Zaporozhye is operating at half its original electricity output, while Unit 2 at South Ukraine station has cut output by 20%. Energoatom says the plants need at least $250 million to buy nuclear fuel from Russia, but the stations have no funds because of non-payment of electricity by consumers who owe about 2 billion hryvnias ($508 million). Energoatom hopes to raise the money by the summer.

Ukraine’s nuclear power stations have hardly any stocks of fresh nuclear fuel, according to the Nuclear Control Administration of the Environment Ministry. Only Unit 6 at Zaporozhye, which is closed for repairs, has a stock of nuclear fuel sufficient for the next loading. There are also stocks of fuel at Chernobyl’s Units 1 and 2, both now closed, which can be used at the still operating Unit 3.

The difficulties are compounded by continued industrial action. Rovno NPP has warned of a possible emergency due to the physical exhaustion of the station’s personnel, who are protesting at the nonpayment of wages and refusing to follow the procedure for rest breaks between shifts. Some staff have already been forbidden to work by doctors. The station’s deputy general director, Yuri Kulesh, says the reactors may have to stop. He is concerned about both wage delays and fuel shortages.

Union leader Olexander Yurkin said workers were owed about 145 million hryvnias ($38.6 million) in wages despite government promises to pay. The government has approved the Finance Ministry taking out a commercial loan of 120 million hryvnias to pay overdue wages to workers throughout the energy sector. However protests have continued with a rally in Slavutych attended by some 1500 workers of the local Chernobyl nuclear station. Oleg Goloskokov, head of Chernobyl’s information service, said the problem was the lack of a proper energy market in Ukraine. Consumers were currently paying in cash for only 2.5% of the electricity generated by the station, and the rest was bartered for wares. Chernobyl loses 50% when selling bartered goods for money.

Meanwhile, a meeting of Ukraine’s Nuclear Society blamed political and industrial decision-makers for the crisis. Both the management and members of the Society’s board told a news conference that Ukraine had not learned from the Chernobyl disaster but added that the society wanted to contribute towards the development of solutions. Board member Mykola Steinberg, who was Ukraine’s chief regulator from 1992 to 1995, admitted that Ukraine was “hopelessly behind” its neighbours due to an underdeveloped safety culture. Poor maintenance funding helped increase malfunctions at Ukraine’s NPPs by 20% in 1998.

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