July 24, 2013

"The Most Problematic in Ukraine is the Zaporizhia Nuclear Plant"

Bohdan Sokolovskyi

“The Most Problematic in Ukraine is Zaporizhia Nuclear Power Plant”

Bohdan Sokolovskyi is a physicist by education. In Soviet times, he actively participated in the development of nuclear weapons and equipment for the nuclear power industry, as well as in events in the aftermath of the Chernobyl accident. So in energy matters he is an expert, and in Ukraine he is among the best and most honest analysts who work on this subject, knowing its immediate problems. About them Bogdan Ivanovych told in his interview with “Vechirni Visti” (Evening News).

As for the future of nuclear power in the world and in Ukraine, about which asked the reporter, Bogdan Ivanovych, answering his questions, explained the following:

— European nuclear energy system is not only being reduced, like, for example, in Germany. Spain and Poland, for example, have plans for its development and construction. The question is: how nuclear energy system fits into a market economy. Our authorities should be interested in this as they are supposed to be implementing reforms... But at the recent “round table”, where were present directors of all nuclear power plants and experts, there was nobody from the government nor from the opposition. In nuclear power, there are glaring problems, in particular, under-funding of measures for the upcoming closure of the stations, recycling the equipment, land reclamation. Actually, special bank accounts do exist, but for years and decades they have not been filled. And this is against the background of the consumer attitude towards nuclear power. This refers to the covert funding of thermal generation at the expense of nuclear power plants, as the electricity generated at the thermal electric stations is supposedly cheaper. And what to do in the future when the stations will have to be closed?

Reporter: — It seems that about the inevitability of closing nuclear power plants no one even thinks. Now hardly anyone can tell how much it will cost to close stations with all the problems that are sure to arise, especially, over decades.

— Then money should not be amassed, it should be invested in technical measures, but here it is a problem. Plus many other problems. For example, the most problematic in Ukraine is Zaporizhia Nuclear Power Plant. It was built in the time of the Soviet Union “out of the blue”. No one took into consideration the seismic survey. The plant is under threat of Vrancea seismic zone in Romania. Our regulators have covered themselves with papers, everything seems to be fine, but a great trouble may happen. Or let's take another question: extended the term of work for the Water-Water Power Reactor (VVER) two units of 440 MW at the Rovno plant. Very strange: for years have not been done anything about it, and now they suddenly immediately solved the problem.

Reporter: — And what about VVER-1000, that is of 1000 MW? We have heard many times that there is no experience of extending their life at all in our country.

— No one has such experience, even the Russians, that is, the manufacturers themselves. Incidentally, Ukraine has even more of such units than Russia — 11.

Reporter: — Does anybody know how it all will end?

— So far the soothing fact is that the VVER-1000 is similar to the VVER-440, of which there are quite a few in the world. There is also some experience of extending the resource modernization of the VVER-440. The matter is that the 440th reactor requires a tricky procedure, which is called the “annealing of the shell”. It cannot be done at the plant; it has to be brought to the producer-plant. But nothing had been carried anywhere, they did— no one knows how— at the spot. Later, the station started its work, but was stopped after two days. For some time it had not been working, as troubleshooting. Then it was started softly. What happened there — is not precisely known.

Reporter: — Did the authorities and energy experts try to share this information with public? Frankly speaking, it is quite scary.

— No one has said anything. Once at one of the (nuclear power) stations the electric generator had been repaired. I asked the Director how they managed. He said they did it right there, because there was no money to take it to St. Petersburg! And this is strictly forbidden. It must not be repaired on the spot. In Soviet times, for such things a director could be shot away! And we do not have experts of the appropriate level. On the one hand, a lot of them are being trained, but on the other — qualified experts are hard to find. I must admit that Russia is ahead of us in this matter.

Reporter: — Something has to be done about the personnel: either professionals of the appropriate level should be taught here, or they should be taught in Russia.

— Very few are being sent there, but they stay there and, because the Russians have a different salary level. The attitude to experts in Russia is much better. Once, at the beginning of independence Ihor Yukhnovskyi and I kept saying, that the schools, which train specialists for nuclear energy system should be united under one roof. Over time, Europe has done something like that, and then Russia did it. Here nothing has changed. Though many experts also have gone out of the industry in Russia, especially when Kiriyenko was appointed to lead the nuclear energy system.

Reporter: — I see you are very pessimistic.

— The professionalism, honesty, responsibility, that were in Soviet times are gone now. For example, Yuriy Boiko, then the Minister of Fuel and Energy System asks me, “What to do?” I said: “Firstly, we need to steal less!” He looked at me like ... “Secondly — I continue — everything should not be lumped together in the Energy Ministry — the gas industry, thermal, hydro-generation, nuclear power, plus the coal mining industry to top it all. It's an absurd! “And he complains to me, saying, you know, I get orders “from above” ​​— do not touch this one, do not step on that one's foot, — I can do nothing!

Reporter: — The consequences of the Chernobyl accident have somehow been “encapsulated” and how it all will turn out over the years — no one knows.

— The Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant sarcophagus was designed for 20 years and not more, 27 years have passed. The facility has honestly served its term. Now, some pundits say that, you see, there are no vacuum windows there. But they could not be! At the time it was made out of the best available then. And one should take into consideration the rush and stress of the accident! At the beginning there was fear of a nuclear explosion. Only on the 11th of May (1986 —Edit.) when the work area had melted, it became clear that it would not happen. Then Gorbachev arrived at the Institute at night, and so humanly said, "If physicists will not cope, no one else will." At that time no one could solve the security problem, though the French, Germans, Americans, Japanese did try. We, fortunately, managed — built the “Shelter”. Although the ecology had undergone a crushing blow. Then Academician Legasov told me, “Your Ukraine has been spoilt utterly!” I am sorry about Legasov — he later hanged himself.

Reporter: — Somehow those plants will work for a couple of decades on the old Soviet resource. And then what?

— The problem is that we have quite low energy consumption per capita in comparison with developed countries. It will increase. But at the expense of what? Thermal power plants? It is a blow for the environment. New, environmentally friendly technologies are needed.

Another option is nuclear power. But here we are 100% dependent on Russia. Ukraine gave Russia all rights to build a nuclear fuel plant, it is very dangerous. This means technological and political dependence. Besides, we should not hope that Russia will give us for this a lot of money, which it does not have.

The Russians began to complete two units at Khmelnitsky Nuclear Power Plant. The question is why is Russia building the same two blocks for China for 1.7 billion US dollars, while for us — for 10 billion US dollars? A couple of years ago Nigmatullin from Russia called me and told that: their “kickbacks” took 40%, while in Ukraine they are measured, possibly, by times!

Reporter: — In those 10 billion must have been invested serious interests of “serious people”.

— In 2010, when the question of completion was being decided on, this astronomic figure was agreed on with Prime Minister Putin himself, but so far no money. Why Romania, unlike Ukraine, has and is planning to build nuclear power plants according to the Canadian technology? I mean we need diversity. So do the French, who most of electricity produce at nuclear power plants and, by the way, have their own full nuclear cycle. China has both, its own, American, Russian-Soviet and Canadian technologies. Once I asked the Chinese Minister of Nuclear Energy, “What are you going to do with this?” He laughs: “Will arrange a s-s-socialist competition!" But at the moment the best is the Korean technology. Their APR-1400 is the best third-generation reactor, costs 5 billion US dollars. So, for the outdated reactor Russia charged the price at which the Koreans offer the most modern equipment. They won the competition in the UAE, and are building three or four units. They say not a single Arab is allowed in there — Koreans alone are working there.

Reporter: — But the Russians were commissioned in the Czech Republic.

— Yes, but there their hands have been twisted. Slovaks are working with the Russians, but “Rosatom” gave a very good price to Slovakia. It is clear that in Belarus the plant will be built by Russia. They say that at a meeting with Putin, Lukashenko in his usual manner, said, “You do not give me the s..t you gave to Ukraine!”

"Vechirni Visti" (Evening News), July 2013.