Political Fuel

Political Fuel - 

Ukraine’s national utility Energoatom and the U.S.’s Westinghouse Electric Co. intend to sign a nuclear fuel supply deal for three reactors of the country’s nuclear power plants. ROSATOM raises concerns: this decision can jeopardize safety of the plants. Experts addressed the situation with Ukraine’s refusal to use Russia-made fuel at the plants built by the Russian specialists at the forum-dialogue “Atomic Energy, Society, Safety.” 

“It is the unconditional right of any company to determine who to buy fuel from. At the same time, a political decision shouldn’t influence this,” head of ROSATOM Sergey Kirienko said, speaking to the conference on the nuclear power safety. ROSATOM is closely tracing the situation associated with the use of the U.S.-made fuel at Ukraine’s NPPs.

Kirienko reminded that earlier incidents with Westinghouse’s fuel had taken place at Temelin NPP (Czech Republic) and South Ukrainian NPP (Ukraine). At the Czech plant that operates reactor of a Soviet design leaks of estinghouse-made fuel were revealed, and the Czech subsequently turned down services of this supplier. In spring 2012 and in 2013 during a scheduled preventive outage at South Ukrainian NPP failures of the U.S.’s TVS-W fuel assemblies were found out. It emerged that those failures were due to design deficiencies of the Westinghouse’s fuel.

The head of ROSATOM noted that in case of Russia’s fuel supplied to other countries if a single fuel assembly had failed to meet the specifications, “all discussions of the contract would have ended right here.” Kirienko emphasized that if the decisions on licensing and utilization of the U.S. fuel at Ukraine’s NPPs “are made following the international logic of safety ensuring, it is normal.” “We are very positive about the competition. It is not bad if the U.S. companies enter the market of the Russian design fuel and we enter the market of the U.S. and European design fuel,” the CEO of the Russian state-run corporation said. He emphasized that ROSATOM has always acted in accordance with the international nuclear safety requirements.

Expert opinion

The use of Westinghouse’s nuclear fuel at Ukrainian NPPs will decrease operating reliability of the reactors and can threaten nuclear safety, believes academic Ashot Sarkisov, one of the foremost experts in the nuclear power safety and laureate of the Global Energy Award. “The Ukrainian powers’ decision to use Westinghouse’s nuclear fuel can become a source of nuclear and radiation safety risks due to some design mismatch, which objectively decreases the reactor core reliability,” Sarkisov says. According to the expert, the current choice of the nuclear fuel vendor for the Ukrainian NPP is imposed by politics rather than safety considerations. “Up to now, even during Victor Yushchenko presidency, this fuel underwent the licensing process at least.

The pilot batch was operated under supervision of the State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate. And when the fuel distorted and twisted, the regulator’s ruling to stop using this fuel and to unload it totally was obeyed. Nuclear safety was observed on technicalities, at least, he says. At that, Elena Mikolaichuk, the chairman of the regulatory authority of Ukraine, who took the compelling standing, was simply forced to resign.

Therefore, the new Kiev powers, who forget about the outmost priority of nuclear safety and are being guided by momentary political grounds, are actively preparing the way for a private U.S. company. It cannot but raise bewilderment and deep concern. Manipulation of the nuclear regulatory authority is a grave breach of international standards of the safe use of atomic energy.

This body must be independent by all canons. The dismissal of the chief nuclear regulator to please a commercial structure in the market is an inadmissible precedent, since it contradicts the fundamental principles of the safety culture,” Sarkisov says.

Leave your comment on this story