Is Chernobyl Closure the Biggest Mistake?

The other day Ukraine’s parliament (the Rada) considered whether it was a mistake or not to close the Chernobyl nuclear plant. The question arose at an out session of the parliament’s committee for fuel, energy, nuclear safety and nuclear policy which recently took place on the territory of the Chernobyl nuclear plant.

Main problem on the agenda of the session was ending of the plant’s exploitation. Committee member, Oleg Panasovsky suggested that if at least one unit of the Chernobyl nuclear plant keeps on working and the energy it generates is sold, it would give Ukraine finance necessary for realization of important projects at the nuclear plant. Although the idea is really very fantastic, some deputies said it had been the grossest mistake in the whole history of the energy system to close the Chernobyl nuclear plant. Director of the nuclear plant Yury Neretin says that from technical point of view, the third generating unit can be started any time, but Ukraine can’t do it because of political situation and important international liabilities which it must observe.

Chairman of the Ukrainian State Nuclear Inspection Vadim Grishenko objects to re-opening of the Chernobyl nuclear plant. He says that even though nuclear reactors similar to those used at the Chernobyl nuclear plant undergo modernization, it is still very risky to operate them for the high degree of risk. Probability of a radiation accident makes up one per thousand years in this case, but the probability allowed by the standards is one per 100,000 years. So, he says Leonid Kuchma’s decision to close the nuclear plant was absolutely reasonable and correct.

This problem is likely to give food for more and more disputes in the future. However, it is perfectly clear, and was clear before closure of the plant, that it was closed because of political, not economic reasons. Some time ago, Russian Deputy Minister for Nuclear Energy Bulat Nigmatullin said in an interview to Russia’s RTR television that Ukraine would suffer considerable losses if the Chernobyl nuclear plant is closed. The third generating unit produced about 7 billion kWh at the cost of 200 USD. Nigmatullin was sure that the third unit was rather safe and could operate for fifteen years more.

Ukrainian communists strongly objected to the nuclear plant’s closure. Communist leader Pyotr Simonenko said, Kuchma’s decision to close the plant was a political one; he said, the decision damaged Ukraine’s national interests.

However, Ukrainian “green” party is sure that closure of the Chernobyl nuclear plant “means beginning of an era of new ecological thinking in the country.” Unfortunately, there are no signs of this new ecological thinking in Ukraine so far. What is more, President Kuchma, who was the key initiator of the plant’s closure had to admit in a year since the Chernobyl plant closure that “number of problems connected with the closure didn’t reduce at all.”

The  third generating unit of the Chernobyl nuclear plant was stopped on December 15, 2000 in accordance with the Ukraine president’s decree. Earlier, the government of Ukraine issued a decree on closure of the unit #1 on November 30, 1996 and of unit #2 – on March 15, 1999.

Andrey Lubensky

Author`s name Michael Simpson