(Archives edition Looking back on the dodgy Ukrainian nuclear energy industry a possible source of HEU for Jihadists in our latest report
By Yoichi Shimatsu
Exclusvie to Rense
Clashes over energy in Ukraine between the West and Russia could prompt another Chernobyl-type accident or a catastrophe on the order of a Fukushima that will complete the nuclear devastation of the Northern Hemisphere. As news media fixate on conflicts over pipelines that supply Europe with Russian gas, another energy war is erupting over control of Ukraine’s nuclear-power industry, which generates half that nation’s electricity.
Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenuk’s campaign for “energy independence” from Russian-sourced natural gas and nuclear fuel is not a study in cost control, economic security or even national sovereignty. His corporate-giveaway policies are actually a concession to Western energy interests in return for their influence over the EU, which can provide loans to avert an imminent default on Kiev’s debt to the IMF and World Bank. With an annual budget shortfall of $15 billion and a currency collapse, Ukraine is staggering under external sovereign debt estimated at between $140 and $200 billion.
The IMF and World Bank have halted further transfers of loan tranches to Kiev, which is now unable to make payments on its gas imports from Russia. Kiev policymakers are therefore desperately looking to expand their nuclear industry. Unfortunately two recent accidents at its largest nuclear-power plant highlight the serious risks to a nation still grappling with the long-term effects of the 1986 Chernobyl meltdown.
Boom and Bust
In stark contrast with eco-conscious capitals across Europe, Kiev is unable to resist foreign demands to adopt the Texan model of boom-and-bust energy extraction. Chevron and Shell have launched fracking projects to tap shale-oil deposits across Ukraine, but exploration and revenues have been delayed by the fierce fighting in the Donetsk region.
Ukraine also possesses one of Europe’s few exploitable uranium reserves in its Kirovograd and Dnipropetrovsk regions, now being targeted by the French nuclear giant AREVA in cooperation with local partner VostGOK.
An ongoing series of nuclear-fuel deals between Toshiba-Westinghouse and Ukraine energy monopoly Energoatom is aimed at severing Kiev’s reliance on Russian technology and Kazakh uranium. The competition to supply the global market for MOX (mixed oxides of uranium and plutonium) is pitting a consortium of Westinghouse, AREVA and their US suppliers against their Moscow-based rival Rusatom and nuclear-engineering firm TVE.
Beset by losses of orders from Japan, the AREVA MOX fabrication plant in France is facing a new and strong challenge from the Rusatom pellet facility in Krasnoyarsk, western Siberia, which has replaced the aging Mayak fuel plant.
To reduce stockpiles of plutonium-laced spent fuel rods stored inside power plants, the global nuclear industry is pushing to introduce advanced prototypes of fast-breeder reactors, which burn a variety of nuclear fuels including plutonium. Rusatom is producing MOX pellets for a next-generation fast-breeder to start operation this year at Beloyarskaya. The Russian design is the chief rival for next-generation breeder reactors being developed by the French ASTRID program in the Rhone region and the Hitachi-GE Horizon project along Britain’s Irish Sea coast.
In this global race to revive the fortunes of the nuclear industry, Chernobyl and the ongoing Fukushima cataclysm spewing radioactive waste into the jet stream over Europe have all but been forgotten.
Salvaging Savannah River
The powerful explosion of MOX fuel rods at Reactor 3 in Fukushima nearly four years ago prompted Britain to close its Sellafield MOX fuel-rod production facility and convinced the Department of Energy to suspend construction on the US mixed-oxide project in Savannah River, South Carolina. These setbacks for the US-UK nuclear industry left the AREVA’s Mercoule facility in the southern French region of Languedoc-Roussillon as the only MOX producer in the West.