Ukraine and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) have signed two agreements on the allocation of grants totalling about $130 million for work on the Chernobyl Sarcophagus. Under an agreement between the EBRD and Energoatom, 103.5 million ECU is to be allocated to implement urgent projects of the international Shelter Implementation Plan. This agreement, to cover a two-year period, will fund projects in four areas: stabilisation of buildings; improvement of the system monitoring the state of the Sarcophagus; treatment of dust and water inside the facility; and examination and treatment of the remaining nuclear fuel. The manager of the Shelter facility, Valentin Kupny, says the team managing the project would soon decide the winners of a tender in each of these areas.

A second agreement, signed by the EBRD and the Ukrainian Environment and Nuclear Safety Ministry, will provide aid totalling $9.5 million to the ministry’s nuclear control directorate to fund preparations for further projects within the SIP. Meanwhile, Premier Pustovoytenko and Volodymyr Gorbulin, secretary of the Security and Defence Council, have stressed that Ukraine will not close the Chernobyl plant until the G8 countries release the funds necessary for the closure. Russian Minister of Atomic Energy Yevgeni Adamov has said those demands can be seen as “nuclear blackmail.” Adamov is concerned that “Chernobyl is not absolutely safe, but is roughly on the same level as other similar atomic stations on the CIS territory.” However, Yuri Kostenko, Ukraine’s outgoing Minister for the Environment and Nuclear Safety, says he believes that the G7 could speed up their financial support. Ukraine has so far received only $230 million of the $2 billion required to close the Chernobyl station, he said. Acting EBRD president Charles Frank believes funding for Chernobyl is one of the bank’s main challenges. “If we fail to raise the necessary funds the consequences for the world are too horrible to imagine,” he said. To date, the G7 have approved a $300 million grant to help the project and the European Union agreed to contribute $100 million. The Ukrainian government will allocate $150 million for the project over the next seven years.

President Kuchma warned on 20 May that without financial assistance to complete Khmelnitsky and Rovno and help make the Chernobyl “Shelter” ecologically safe, Ukraine will take the matter into its own hands or seek Russian help.

On 30 May the head of Energoatom, Nur Nigmatullin, gave the same message. “Ukraine has not reneged on any promises and will not renege one iota,” he insisted. However, he recalled that there had been no government decision on the time and date of Chernobyl’s closure, which will depend on the EBRD fulfilling its obligations. “If it does not fulfil them, and no other political decision is taken, we shall continue working.” Nigmatullin also noted that: “the second reactor at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant is ready and, with modest spending, could operate for another five to seven years.” However, Ukraine’s Ministry of Environment and Nuclear Safety has sent a report to the Cabinet concluding that there are no grounds at present for taking a decision to restart reactor 2 or to extend the operation of unit 3 beyond the year 2000. The report was made on instructions from the government after it had considered proposals by the Ministry of Energy to extend the operation of the two reactors until the year 2016.

The Environment Ministry pointed out that no comprehensive inspection of the reactor has been carried out and no detailed analysis has been made to find out how much money will be required to restart it. Work on a report analysing the unit’s safety has been suspended.