CleanTechnica.com, by Joshua S. Hill,
Published on April 28, 2017
Unfortunately, Ukraine usually recalls the Chornobyl Nuclear Power Plant (ChNPP), its tragic past and so far indefinite future, on the eve of the disaster’s anniversary. Yet this country is simply destined to continue to have the ChNPP, while its problems, including ecological ones, will remain topical to the entire country and very many Ukrainians of all generations.
“The safety of those living in the Chornobyl area is at an acceptable level now, and nothing affects their health,” said Serhii Parashyn, head of the ChNPP’s public board, adviser to the chairman of the State Agency of Ukraine for Managing the Exclusion Zone, ex-manager of the station. Then he asked: “And when can people come back there?” His own answer was immediate and terse: “Never. There are neither environmental nor economic prerequisites for this.” But, in his view, the zone looks good, and flora and fauna are OK there. Parashyn claims he has gone “green” after the Chornobyl disaster. However, the former ChNPP manager does not think this zone will ever be brought back to the economy. Thirty years after the accident have shown that it is impossible.
RELYING ON BUDGET ALONE
But what is going to be here? Parashyn names extreme options: either we extract everything from the ruined Shelter area, which is too costly in financial terms and dangerous to the personnel, or we extract nothing but cover it with certain inhibiting materials and build a big box – a permanent storage. This has never been done anywhere before, but there has never been a disaster like this either. Yet modern science does not exactly accept even this – it says we do not know what will happen in 300 years’ time.
There is also an intermediate option, the adviser says. We partly extract and partly bury on site. In Parashyn’s words, this requires a thorough explanation, and, what is more, this should find public approval in this country and abroad. All the rules abroad demand that radioactive wastes should be buried in a deep geological formation. This can be done if there is not so much material. And in our case it is also very difficult to do so because of our scanty budget.
“We have to rely on the budget alone because all international projects expire this year,” Parashyn says. “And our budget provides for no development in the exclusion zone. Things have been developing at the expense of foreign aid. This is what kept the ball rolling. Solar energy in the Chornobyl area is now being actively discussed, but real steps are very slow. We have done nothing yet because our invincible bureaucracy is putting up all kinds of obstacles at all levels. Nevertheless, there are no insurmountable problems for building solar power plants.”
NONE OF THE SPENT NUCLEAR FUEL DISPOSAL PROGRAMS HAS BEEN IMPLEMENTED
“As far as nuclear wastes are concerned, Ukraine is only trailing Russia on the Eurasian continent,” says Heorhii Lysychenko, director of the Institute of Environmental Geochemistry of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine. “Therefore, we need to tackle these problems quite seriously. In addition to the Chornobyl NPP, we have the city of Kamianske (former Dniprodzerzhynsk), where there was a uranium ore processing and beneficiation mill and a lot of wastes have accumulated. None of the programs of their disposal has been implemented, but we are inviting bids now, so there is a hope that European money will help us solve the problem of this region’s safety.”
Lysychenko emphasizes that Ukraine has no closed technological cycle from processing the spent nuclear fuel to making the end product fit for long storage and burial. In his words, it was reported recently that the nuclear waste disposal program was only 12 percent implemented in 2016, while the government is frittering away and hindering the development of the Radioactive Waste Handling Fund.
“The international community has mapped out, together with our specialists, the concept of radioactive waste disposal in Ukraine,” Lysychenko said. “But even in Europe, no storages will be built before 2030. Some specialists suggest building a surface storage for highly-active wastes and spent nuclear fuel.”
NO HEARINGS, NO REFERENDUMS
“Thirty one years have passed since the Chornobyl tragedy, but it is still not clear in Ukraine what should be done with this territory (the exclusion zone),” Yaroslav Zadesenets, co-chair of the Association of Ukrainian Greens, says. “Particularly, it is planned to set up compounds in the zone for storing radioactive materials from other regions, including a centralized facility to store nuclear fuel for three nuclear stations in Ukraine. This will mean additional pressure on the affected area and delivery of another 80,000 tons of radioactive materials there. We think it is very important that the public should have a real say in making these decisions.”
The activist recalls that the only public hearings on the Centralized Storage of Spent Nuclear Fuel (CSSNF) were held in March 2008. The final decision on construction was to be made at local consultative referendums that were never held. In 2016 the CSSNF project was submitted for a repeated governmental examination, but the public hearings, the results of which are part of the assessment of environmental impact, were never held. At the same time, the government decided to withdraw the situation in the exclusion zone from the competence of local councils. As a result, the population of Kyiv oblast was in fact barred from taking part in making any decisions about the ChNPP area.
Zadesenets reveals the results of a sociological survey held in the fall of 2016. In his words, 83 percent of the Kyiv city and oblast residents either knew nothing at all about the plans to build the CSSNF or heard something about the forthcoming decision. The total of 96 percent of Kyiv oblast residents flatly opposed the construction of this facility. For example, 14,000 signatures were collected in Ivankiv raion against this project. The Greens leader emphasizes that his organization is not against the construction of the CSSNF but insists that the laws of Ukraine be in force throughout its territory, including the exclusion zone, and decisions be made openly and transparently. He demands publishing the relevant materials and holding full-fledged public hearings. Maksym Zapaskin, head of the standing commission for environmental protection of the Kyiv Oblast Council, supports the Greens leader and points out that the Oblast Council came out in 2016 against the construction of the CSSNF in the exclusion zone.”
To conclude the discussion, Borys Kostiukovskyi, research director of the Comprehensive Analysis and Forecast Bureau, said: “Nowhere and never will the populace support the establishment of a nuclear fuel storage facility. However, Ukraine just has no other place for this but the exclusion zone. This should be explained to people. But it is absolutely wrong to hide the project of such a facility and to avoid discussing this point.”