The Chilling Threat Of Nuclear Civil War In UkrainePolitics / Ukraine Civil War Jul 07, 2014 - 03:05 AM GMT
Playing With Fire
The WNA-World Nuclear Association which tirelessly promotes nuclear power presents Ukraine as a poster child of civil nuclear power. It says that after construction of Ukraine's first-ever civil nuclear power complex – at Chernobyl in 1970 – Ukraine's present 15 NPPs (nuclear reactors) grouped into 4 major complexes operated by State monopoly NNEGC Energoatom had a combined capacity of about 13 900 MW and were all VVER-type reactors (mostly VVER-320s) of Soviet design. Using 2009 data, they produced about 48% of Ukraine's total electricity output of 177 billion kWh of which 4 billion kWh was exported.
Nearly all major Ukrainian NPP complexes are in western Ukraine – with the exception of Zaporijia or Zaporhyzhya, located about 125 kms north of Crimea. Flight time from Crimea in a Mikoyan-Gourevitch 29 (Mig-29 or Su-29) carrying up to 5000 kilograms weight of bombs and missiles can be estimated at about 3 minutes and 24 seconds. Russia's Crimean forces also have the later navalised enhanced Mig-29K codenamed Fulcrum-D by Nato, with a combat radius of about 1800 kilometres.
The net total capacity of the six-reactor Zaporija complex is given by the WNA as the highest in Europe, at 5718 MW, with the Graveslines complex near Dunkerque in France, operated by France's EDF as second-largest in Europe at 5400 MW. The radiological inventory of either of these complexes is hundreds of times the radiological output of the single Hiroshima atom bomb of 1945.
Apart from Zaporija-6, all other VVER-320 reactors at the complex were built before 1989 with a 30-year design lifetime. Rather than decommissioning these reactors, and as in other European countries, Ukraine has sought to extend their operating lifetimes. As of March 2013, the European Bank for Reconstruction & Development (EBRD) announced a 300 million euro loan for reactor safety upgrading to the end of 2017, matching another 300 million euro loan from Euratom.
In total, EU atomic agencies have provided or intend to provide 1.4 billion euros to extend Ukrainian reactor lifetimes by investing in “up to 87 safety measures addressing design and safety issues”, including national emergency preparedness for NPP accident management.
To be sure, none of this includes deliberate attack by military aircraft on particularly soft NPP targets!
Unsafe (Even In) Peacetime
Soviet design VVERs have a deserved reputation for danger. Accession to the European Union of Bulgaria, Slovakia and Lithuania was delayed solely by the question of shutting down their 8 Soviet-design PWRs (pressurized water reactors).
This was a non-negotiable condition for their entry to the EU.
However and overall in eastern Europe, 11 of the earlier RBMK series of PWRs, and 4 VVER 230s, which preceded the slightly safer 320s still operate. The RBMK series, exactly like early Westinghouse (American) PWRs was directly scaled up from graphite-moderated, water-cooled submarine power reactors. It could be called a “naked reactor” due to its critically low amounts of shielding and cladding. Apart from submarine propulsion, its other main design goal was maximized plutonium production – for bomb material – during operation. Operator safety was a minor concern!
After the Chernobyl accident in April 1986, EU governments were quick to point the finger at RBMK and first-generation VVER 230 reactors in Eastern Europe, mainly to tout the claimed high levels of safety built into Western designs. In the emotive discussions after Chernobyl, Western safety standards were taken as unquestioned yardsticks. The politically-motivated communication on this subject enabled Western governments to avoid shutting down any Western PWRs and no Western construction project was aborted by political decision, due to constant and heavy manipulation of public opinion.
In the run-up to Germany's reunification, the government in 1989 examined the feasibility of upgrading the six VVER reactors then under construction in East Germany, one of which had just started up. For purely financial reasons the four operating V-230s at Greifswald and an earlier VVER at Rheinsberg were closed in 1990. Although the units under construction could be brought up to Western safety standards, no investor could be found to take on the re-licensing risk. Especially in Germany, the post-Chernobyl reactor safety scare led Siemens to develop the claimed “uber safe PWR' now called the EPR. Since Siemens complete abandonment of nuclear engineering in 2011, after Fukushima, only France's Areva continues with this uber-expensive reactor design. Following 9/11, firstly Siemens and then Areva claim that EPRs are able to resist the crash of 1 wide-bodied civil airplane.
No mention is made of potential military attack by fully-armed Mig-29s. Either singly or in groups!
Ukraine's Nuclear Civil War
Energoatom provides a map of major reactor complexes in Ukraine, mostly located in western Ukraine
We can note that towns focused for military repression of pro-Russian separatists by the Kiev government - Mariupol, Slovyansk, Luhansk and Donetsk – are like Crimea also about 120 to 150 kilometres from the Zaporija reactor complex. Well before the Flash Mob uprising in Kiev, former Ukrainian minister of Energy and Coal, Eduard Stawicki on January 27 stated that UN IAEA experts were going to arrive in the country with an unscheduled inspection “conditioned with the fact of threats of seizure and blocking Ukrainian thermal, nuclear and hydro power stations. We have permanent inspection regime, but now the situation is very difficult with such tension in the society".
Since late January there have been several under-reported and nuclear-related actions in Ukraine as tension deepens, such as the brief occupation of the Zaporija complex by 40 Neo-nazi Right Sector actvists from Kiev in May in an action “designed to deter pro-Russian federalists and separatists”. From April 2014, the Kiev government has on several occasions made calls for “Western governments” to provide international monitors and “non-aligned peacekeeping forces” to protect the country's NPPs, repeatedly stating that major attacks on NPP complexes could release more radiation than Chernobyl and Fukushima combined.
To be sure no action has resulted and all is in place for Ukraine's civil war to “go nuclear”. The nuclear threat is with no possible doubt yet another reason why Western powers are making sur not to engage Russia in a hot war for the control of Ukraine – but the internal and domestic dynamic of civil war and Kiev's attempt to suppress pro-Russian activists open the door to a nuclear endgame at any time.
By Andrew McKillop
Former chief policy analyst, Division A Policy, DG XVII Energy, European Commission. Andrew McKillop Biographic Highlights
Co-author 'The Doomsday Machine', Palgrave Macmillan USA, 2012
Andrew McKillop has more than 30 years experience in the energy, economic and finance domains. Trained at London UK’s University College, he has had specially long experience of energy policy, project administration and the development and financing of alternate energy. This included his role of in-house Expert on Policy and Programming at the DG XVII-Energy of the European Commission, Director of Information of the OAPEC technology transfer subsidiary, AREC and researcher for UN agencies including the ILO.
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