By Michael Mariotte

The sprawling South Ukraine nuclear complex.

Life isn’t easy in Ukraine these days. There’s an ongoing low-grade war in the eastern part of the country that constantly threatens to explode as Russian troops continue building their forces in the region. In the rest of the country, there’s serious economic contraction–far worse to Ukraine’s economy, on a percentage basis, than the Great Recession that swept across the West several years ago. To top it off, Transparency International recently named Ukraine the most corrupt country in Europe, with police and other officials regularly demanding bribes from citizens. Efforts to curb that corruption are a major focus of the Ukrainian government.

Ending the kind of endemic corruption that prevails in Ukraine requires building a strong civil society. So the government might want to step back and examine itself, or at least its nuclear energy arm, Energoatom, which recently filed a lawsuit against the country’s leading environmental/clean energy group, the National Ecological Center of Ukraine (note: NIRS has long worked with the NECU).

The issue: a May 2015 press release from NECU that charged that Energoatom’s South Ukraine Unit-2 reactor does not meet safety standards. The nuclear giant wants NECU to retract the release and publish a statement on its website that some of the information in it was false.

Except that the South Ukraine Unit-2 reactor in fact does not meet safety standards. In April, Ukraine’s nuclear regulatory body reported that the 30 year-old reactor actually has 41 deviations from the safety rules and has refused to allow it to restart. In Ukraine, reactors are licensed for only 30 years (rather than the 40 years in the U.S.), so Energoatom wants a license extension for the reactor, an extension it can’t get with so many problems. And Energoatom apparently would rather go after NECU and other Ukrainian groups like Ecoclub (which also serves as the NIRS-WISE network office in Ukraine) for publicizing the problems and challenging the relicensing rather than own up to them.

As the NECU’s Irina Holovko stated, “If Energoatom is concerned about its reputation it would be wiser to directly engage with the public on its plans and their long term implications rather than trying to stifle civil society critique.”

Changing Ukrainian society will be a long-term process. The government could get a good start by reining in Energoatom and promoting transparency in the nuclear sector, as it needs to do in much of the rest of the country as well.

Michael Mariotte

August 28, 2015


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