Ukraine keeps deadly nuclear plant alive

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CONCERN for safety swept aside by economic meltdown, Ukraine yesterday dropped plans to shut down three surviving reactors at the Chernobyl nuclear power station, seven years after No 4 Reactor spewed radiation across half of Europe. In a lopsided vote, highlighting Ukraine's desperate plight, parliament in Kiev also lifted a moratorium on building new nuclear plants.

Ukraine desperately needs energy. Kiev imports nearly half its needs; around 90 per cent from Russia, which demands hard currency. With the economy in freefall, the country has no cash to pay. Nor can it rely on its own restive miners in the Donbass to keep digging coal.

'We have no other option than to use atomic energy,' said an MP, Volodymyr Duntau. Industrial production has plummeted, and the national currency trades at around 29,000 to the dollar.

Nuclear energy was previously seen as an economically attractive but politically unacceptable option. Ukraine has five working nuclear plants built during the Soviet era and another four 1,000MW power units more than half-completed at a cost of some dollars 6bn ( pounds 4bn). They were mothballed because of public opposition to nuclear energy.

Revulsion at Chernobyl was one of the galvanising forces of Ukraine's break with the Soviet Union in 1991 and formed a core of political consensus for nearly two years.

Estimates of deaths caused by the Chernobyl explosion on 26 April 1986 range from 32 officially reported by Moscow to 4,000 estimated by some Western scientists and many times this by environmental groups.

Yesterday's 221-38 vote in favour of keeping Chernobyl open reverses an earlier vote demanding that the plant, plagued by fires and other problems, be closed this year.