Ukraine to shut down last Chernobyl reactors

April 10, 1994|By New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON -- Ukraine's government has agreed to shut down the remaining nuclear reactors at its power plant in Chernobyl, which was heavily damaged in a catastrophic accident in 1986, the Clinton administration said yesterday.

After three days of meetings with a U.S. delegation, Ukraine abandoned its insistence that nuclear production must continue at the plant, agreeing instead to a joint effort with the United States to find options such as energy conservation and nonnuclear power generation to replace electricity from the plant, which generates about 1,700 megawatts of power.

The agreement is the first time that a former Soviet republic bowed to Western pressures to shut down any of the old Chernobyl-style reactors, which, because of their unsafe design, have long troubled other nations. Armenia, citing safety reasons, closed reactors of a different design when it became independent in 1991.

There are two reactors still in operation at the Chernobyl complex, along with the one destroyed in 1986 and a fourth that was shut down after a fire in 1991. In addition, there are 11 reactors in Russia and two in Lithuania like the ones at Chernobyl.

A Ukrainian official suggested that it could be years before the reactors are actually shut down, according to Reuters.

Nor is it entirely clear that Ukraine's agreement, described as a "commitment in principle," is irreversible or would be supported by the Parliament, which has sometimes resisted the government's plans on matters involving nuclear energy and nuclear arms.

Any energy modernization program would take years and would require financial assistance from the West, and details of any such aid have not been decided, U.S. officials said.

Ukraine's commitment to shut down Chernobyl "at the earliest possible date" was made by Vice Prime Minister Valeri Shmarov after three days of meetings in Kiev with a U.S. delegation led by Deputy Energy Secretary Bill White.

Atomic energy accounts for a third of Ukraine's electricity production, and with the country owing billions of dollars for energy purchased from Russia and plagued with debt and energy shortages, its Parliament voted in October to continue nuclear energy production at Chernobyl. That vote reversed an earlier plan to shut the complex down at the end of 1993.

Ukrainian leaders have even considered restarting one of the damaged Chernobyl reactors, according to a U.S. official.

Chernobyl may have become the world's most famous shorthand for nuclear peril, but government safety experts, nuclear workers and Western scientists agree that the nuclear power industry throughout the former Soviet Union is on the verge of disaster.

In Russia this week, hundreds of industry employees gathered in Moscow to protest the increasingly dangerous conditions at the country's eight biggest nuclear plants.

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