Ukraine drops its price to shut Chernobyl

Old Soviet reactors still terrify the West, despite likely closure of the worst one of all, reports Phil Reeves

Moscow - After weeks of wrangling over money, the Ukraine and the West were inching towards an agreement last night over the terms by which the Chernobyl plant, scene of the worst nuclear accident in history, will be shut down by the end of the decade.

Following talks with officials from the Group of Seven industrialised countries, the Ukrainians indicated they had relaxed a demand for $4bn (pounds 2.53bn) as a condition for closing Chernobyl's two remaining reactors, although they made clear that they still expected a large sum in Western aid.

If the talks finally produce a settlement, there will be widespread relief among governments across Europe, although it will do nothing to ease the anxiety about the hazards posed by the entire nuclear sector in Russia and its former satellites - concerns ranging from theft of components for weapons to the risk of a radiation leak from ill-supervised, under- funded and decrepit installations.

This week the environmental group Greenpeace launched a scathing attack on Russia's lack of safety standards, distributing government documents which showed that last year Gosatomnadzor, the nation's nuclear safety inspectorate, found 38,599 safety violations at nuclear sites, but took legal action in only 13 cases. The inspectorate had also conducted safety tests on more than 17,500 nuclear-related workers; almost 1,300 failed.

These statistics add weight to the alarming findings of the "Most Dangerous Reactors" project, a group of experts convened by the US Department of Energy to alert policy-makers about the dangers of foreign nuclear power plants. In a recent report, following a review of nine Soviet-designed reactors, they described a catalogue of problems including deficiencies in design, weak and incompetent national regulatory bodies, and under- funding.

The American researchers provisionally named the four most dangerous plants as Chernobyl, Kozloduy in Bulgaria, Kola in north-western Russia and Ignalina in Lithuania. Using a complex formula to assess the likelihood of an accident, all four plants received a "D" grade on a scale from A (representing low risk) to F (high risk). Extracts from their conclusions make sobering reading.

Of the Lithuanian plant, the report said: "Conditions that are deemed so important in the West for preventing accidents - like a conservative 'forgiving' plant design, adequate funds and strong regulatory oversight - are simply absent at Ignalina."

The nuclear power station, which provides 80 per cent of the ex-Soviet republic's electricity, became the responsibility of Lithuania's nuclear safety inspectorate, Vatesi, when independence was declared in 1991. "Vatesi is years away from being a recognised authority with a strong scientific base," the report said.

Its authors were scathing about the plant's general safety systems and shoddy construction, but expressed even greater concern over the risk of the reactor cavity being over-pressurised. This "could result in an uncooled core being directly exposed to the atmosphere with no barriers to prevent the release of radioisotopes, as was so aptly shown at Chernobyl. "A major radiation release could affect the health of tens of thousands of people in the region, with secondary fall-out occurring in any number of nearby countries, like Poland, Latvia, Russia or Sweden," the report said.

Like Chernobyl, the plant uses boiling-water, pressure-tube RBMK reactors - the kind "generally considered the least safe by Western safety experts". Some 200,000 people live within a 30-mile radius of Ignalina.

Operating the Kozloduy power plant, on the Romanian border in northern Bulgaria, is a "truly high stakes gamble". The report cites serious design faults, a dangerously undersized emergency core-cooling system, inadequate containment and "a legacy of poor safety culture". When international inspectors ordered its first generation water-cooled reactors to be shut down four years ago, the Bulgarians obeyed. But they restarted them a year later, "without correcting a number of design deficiencies". One of its reactors is closed for safety checks, but another was restarted recently by the government, which says it cannot do without the power as the winter approaches. Some 150,000 people live within a 30-mile radius of the plant.

The Kola plant in north-western Russia is the primary cause of a threefold increase in the number of incidents at old Soviet-style VVER-440 reactors in recent years, said the report. About once a year, Kola has a near-accident. "Poor employee morale is increasing chances of human error and sabotage."

News
Richard Dawkins dedicated his book 'The Greatest Show on Earth' to Josh Timonen
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Extras
indybest
Life and Style
food + drink
Life and Style
fashionLidl to launch a new affordable fashion range
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Web Analyst – Permanent – West Sussex – Up to £43k

£35000 - £43000 Per Annum plus excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions...

Principal Arboricultural Consultant

£35000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Principal Arboricu...

Trainee Digital Forensic Analyst

£17000 - £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Trainee Digital Fo...

Legal Recruitment Consultant

Highly Competitive Salary + Commission: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL BASED - DEALING ...

Day In a Page

Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

But could his predictions of war do the same?
Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

Young at hort

Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?
Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award: 'making a quip as funny as possible is an art'

Beyond a joke

Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire: The joy of camping in a wetland nature reserve and sleeping under the stars

A wild night out

Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire offers a rare chance to camp in a wetland nature reserve
Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition: It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans

Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition

It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans
Besiktas vs Arsenal: Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie

Besiktas vs Arsenal

Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie
Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

As the Northern Irishman prepares for the Barclays, he finds time to appear on TV in the States, where he’s now such a global superstar that he needs no introduction
Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to Formula One

Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to F1

The 16-year-old will become the sport’s youngest-ever driver when he makes his debut for Toro Rosso next season
Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

But belated attempts to unite will be to no avail if the Sunni caliphate remains strong in Syria, says Patrick Cockburn
Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I would end up killing myself in jail'

Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I'd end up killing myself in jail'

Following last week's report on prison suicides, the former inmate asks how much progress we have made in the 50 years since the abolition of capital punishment