by Nazar Kudrevsky, Kyiv Post Staff Writer
Aug 15 2007, 22:31
Holtec International, a US energy consultancy and contractor, has commenced work on a project to complete construction of a second nuclear waste storage facility near the Chornobyl Nuclear Power Plant, officials said this month.
Analysts say that completion of the construction of the second nuclear waste storage facility would eventually help decommission the whole plant and eliminate risks and hazards related to the storage of spent nuclear fuel from Chornobyl.
Experts say the facility is a first step toward building additional storage facilities and possibly processing facilities. Such projects can help Ukraine reduce dependency on its northern neighbor, Russia, to which it currently pays more than $100 million annually for accepting, processing and storing spent nuclear fuel. The contract also marks growing cooperation between the power industries of the US and Ukraine, whose energy sector remains tightly integrated with Russia.
Officials from Holtec, Ukraineâ€™s Energy Ministry and the Chornobyl plant agreed that Holtec would start preparation works on the project prior to signing an official agreement.
â€œIn the interim, we will finish contractual negotiations, and around the end of August or middle of September, we will sign the contract [with Holtec],â€ said Andriy Shatsman, head of the group for managing projects on decommissioning the Chornobyl plant. The value of the contract with Holtec was not disclosed.
The Chornobyl plant was decommissioned in December 2000, however, a storage facility needs to be built to hold spent nuclear fuel from the plantâ€™s other three reactors. The plant already has one nuclear waste storage facility in place, but it is due to be decommissioned in 2016.
The Chornobyl plant, the site of the worst nuclear disaster in history, continues to be a real, yet unresolved problem worrying Ukraine itself, its neighbors and the EU.
The problems of the plant fall under projects funded through the Chornobyl Shelter Fund and the Nuclear Safety Account (a multilateral fund set up at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development in 1993 to finance nuclear safety projects in Central and Eastern Europe). Both projects were created on initiatives from the EU and the G7.
Franceâ€™s Framatome, recently renamed to Areva NP, was originally chosen as the contractor for the construction of the second nuclear waste storage facility, but was replaced with Holtec.
The contract with the French company was signed in 1999, but work was suspended in 2003 over alleged project defects raised by the Chornobyl plantâ€™s management.
Framatome, a designer and builder of nuclear power plants, was originally supposed to have completed works in 2003. A contract with the French company was terminated in April 2007. Talks with Holtec regarding modification and completion of the project were started in January this year.
More than $96 million has already been spent on the project. Currently, more than 50 percent of the second storage facility is completed.
The contract with Holtec, a diversified technology company headquartered in New Jersey, envisions that the nuclear waste storage facility would be ready in about five years, according to Shatsman.
At first, 25 months will be spent on preparation work, including design development and attaining approval from Ukraineâ€™s authorities. Construction is expected to last an additional 40 months.
The completion of construction of the storage facility does not resolve the issue of processing nuclear fuel spent by the Chornobyl plant for later reuse, since currently spent fuel used at RBMK nuclear reactors deployed at the plant is not processed either in Ukraine or Russia.
The Chornobyl plantâ€™s storage facilities will store only spent fuel from the plant itself and not from Ukraineâ€™s other nuclear power plants.
But plans exist to expand storage facilities and launch other facilities that would help Ukraine, one of the largest nuclear power generators, to reprocess and reuse some of its spent nuclear fuel rather than paying Russian companies for such services.
Ukraineâ€™s state nuclear power company currently operates 14 nuclear power blocks at four power plants. Six of the blocks are located at the Zaporizhya Nuclear Power Plant, home to the only spent nuclear fuel facility in Ukraine. The rest of the power plants are dependent on Russian services for storage and processing of their nuclear waste.
Nuclear power plants produce about half of the power needs of Ukraine, a country that also boasts massive thermal generators and exports electricity for hard currency.