April 26, 1986, the biggest ever world’s nuclear disaster befallen at the Chornobyl nuclear power plant. The radioactive cloud covered the neighbouring territories in Ukraine, Belarus, Russia and many other European countries. Ukraine currently estimates 2.5 million people affected by Chornobyl disaster, of which 105 000 became disabled. Dozens of thousands of people died as a result of exposure. The European Union greatly supports Ukraine in overcoming the consequences of the disaster. It becomes a topic of a conversation with Neven Mimica, EU Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development.
For the last few years Ukraine is going through difficult and tragic events, which to some extent put into the shade the Chornobyl catastrophe. What makes Chornobyl still topical today, on the 30th anniversary of this disaster, – what is the official point of view of the EU or your personal opinion on this?
Chоrnobyl is not only about nuclear safety. The disaster caused devastation and human suffering on a large scale; the European Commission is still today running health and social projects to help the local populations. . It would be inconceivable to walk away from our responsibilities at this stage and leave behind a significant nuclear safety issue after investing vast sums of money. The most important projects requiring the decommissioning of the plant and to make the site environmentally safe are now due to be completed by the end of 2017.
The G7 and the European Commission signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Ukraine in 1995 which, inter alia, contained provisions for Ukraine to close the 3 Chоrnobyl reactors which kept operating after the accident (which it did in 2000). In return the G7 and the European Commission would help Ukraine to make the site environmentally safe.
In addition to the direct contributions from the EU Member States to the international funds managed by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) (i.e.the Chernobyl Shelter Fund and the Nuclear Safety Account) the European Commission contributed so far some €470 million to these funds. A further pledge is being made to the Nuclear Safety Account (NSA) to complete the Interim Spent Fuel Storage Facility required for the decommissioning of the plant.
The largest and most important of the projects is the New Safe Confinement (the Shelter). This will cover the unit which suffered the accident in 1986, in order to isolate it and prevent radiation leaks. It ultimately also provides for its dismantling.
The Shelter and related projects are quite unique and presenting a number of challenges from a technical stand point, made particularly difficult by the hazardous conditions at the site and the number of interfaces we have to deal with. However, the parties have shown great commitment, sticking to the agreed cost and to the schedule to bring it to a successful conclusion by the end of 2017.
In your opinion can Chornobyl exclusion zone be suitable again for common life and if so when exactly this can happen? What should be done for this and do the EU and Ukraine collaborate for this purpose?
We received some information from the Ukrainian Government on the plans for the Exclusion Zone. We are waiting for further official details on the proposals. We advised that, before a final decision is taken, they should be reviewed by an independent panel of experts.
Besides Chornobyl what other issues are important in the EU-Ukraine cooperation in the nuclear safety field nowadays?
Our cooperation covers a wide range of issues from regulatory matters to waste management, training and tutoring of regulator and operator staff. The Commission just decided on a new project concerning emergency measures for the Prydniprovskiy Chemical Plant.
The EU also supports the improvement of the nuclear safety of the Ukrainian nuclear power plants through a large Euratom loan to the operator (in addition to a loan from the EBRD).
We expect that the RADA will soon pass legislation to restore the independence of the State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate of Ukraine.
How is the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement influencing or will influence the EU-Ukraine nuclear cooperation?
The Association Agreement will further strengthen the relations between the EU and Ukraine on Nuclear Safety. It will provide for a more structured dialogue on nuclear safety issues. Ukraine will be encouraged to continue adopting the EU acquis on nuclear safety. As you know the EU has a long experience in this field since the creation of the Euratom in 1957.
In Ukraine there is no discussion on abandoning the nuclear energy. But in some EU states there are such discussions, some already gave up using nuclear power plants, e.g. Germany. In your opinion, is there necessity to give up nuclear energy for better safety in Europe?
The decision to use or not to use nuclear power as part of the energy mix is a sovereign decision; it is up to each country to decide, within the EU and elsewhere. Our objective is that if a country decides to use nuclear power, it should do it safely and responsibly in accordance with international nuclear safety standards and conventions. It should also take care of the generated nuclear waste in a safe and responsible way. The EU has stringent nuclear safety and waste management regulations which set an example.
The Commissioner Mimica’s considerations expressed in the interview were published by Europeyska Pravda web-site