The closure of Chernobyl may depend on the outcome of parliamentary hearings to be held in December, according to deputy speaker Stepan Gavrish, even though president Leonid Kuchma officially promised to close the station. If the international community does not provide funding to close Chernobyl, the Ukrainian parliament “may adopt an adequate decision,” Gavrish warned, adding that members of the parliament “have differing points of view” on this question. He stressed Ukraine is ready to close the plant, but it does not have sufficient resources, and unless two new reactors are commisioned at Rovno and Khmelnitsky, Ukraine’s energy system could be destabilised.

During a visit to Ukraine, European Commission president Romano Prodi gave assurances of the EU assistance. The Commission plans to offer Ukraine a grant to make up for shortages of fuel at power plants as a result of the closure of Chernobyl. Ukrainian fuel and energy minister Sergei Yermilov said the grant may amount to $80-100 million, which would be the difference between the cost of fossil fuel for thermal power plants and nuclear fuel used at Chernobyl.

Earlier, Jean Lemierre, president of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), said he would recommend that the bank’s board consider approving plans for a power sector loan to Ukraine. He said it seemed justified to provide Ukraine with a credit of about $180 million to help cover the costs of decommissioning Chernobyl and estimated the total cost of this project at around $1.4 billion.

Yermilov said overall completion costs would amount to $1480 million, with the EBRD expected to finance related projects up to $270 million. He stressed that he saw no need for increases in the cost of nuclear-generated electricity ahead of the coming winter months, even though Energoatom had sustained losses of up to $90 million in recent years.

Several Ukrainian officials have suggested that Chernobyl should be kept open until April 2001 to ensure that the country had enough power during the winter, but Lemierre said Kuchma had assured him that the closure would proceed on schedule.

EBRD experts are drawing up a report on funds to complete the reactors at Rovno and Khmelnitsky. Lemierre has recommended approval of a $215 million loan for this. The EBRD’s board will discuss the report and formally vote on the loan in early December.