Ukraine’s Nuclear Fuel Storage Facility: a well-calculated project or an unwarranted risk?

Photo credit: Bellona

Concerns have been raising among environmentalists and nuclear power engineers as Ukraine continues the loading of used fuel into the into the containerized dry storage systems of the new Chernobyl Interim Spent Nuclear Fuel Storage Facility (ISF-2).

Designed by Holtec International, the project poses dangerous risks to the global environment, and here is why.

According to the official website of Holtec International and John Heaton’s presentation at the “ELEA – Holtec International” Congress, the U.S. company claims to have some competences and expertise in storing the nuclear energy waste. Among them are: technologies for the construction of dry storage facilities of the CISF type for the temporary storage of containers with spent nuclear fuel and radioactive wastes; the reliability of the storage facilities that is ensured by a dry climate system, which prevents corrosion of structural materials and excludes the ingress of water into the waste tanks. Finally, the company already has its own functioning storage.

However, the Holtec International has no expertise in building large, capacious storage facilities for long-term (more than 50 years) storage of spent nuclear fuel in a humid and cold climate, with a pronounced change of seasons.

For 6 years of work on the territory of Ukraine, “Holtec International” has so far the only one achievement concerning the loading of the two double-walled tanks with spent nuclear fuel from the RBMK reactor in the Interim Storage Facility (ISF-2) at the Chernobyl NPP site. It is shown that containers with nuclear waste are placed in the ISF-2 building that is already under operation, and not in a dry storage facility of the CISF type. In addition, the arrangement of tanks in the ISF-2 storage facility is horizontal, not vertical (i.e., it does not correspond to the American technology of storage of tanks), and it is not known what risks and consequences this may lead to. For this reason, the launch of ISF-2 by “Holtec International” specialists was delayed, since it was not known in advance whether it would be possible to safely place the canister in the storage facility.

According to the study by Ukrainian experts, Ukraine’s 15 reactors – all of which were built while the country was still a republic of the Soviet Union – supply more than half of the domestic electricity supply. This means that reactors built during the Soviet era in Ukraine has more trust among nuclear power engineers rather than an ambitious U.S. project.

Ukrainian President Volodimir Zelensky, during the negotiations over the project last year, said Ukraine would embrace nuclear power as a national priority.

“In the coming years, many countries will work against nuclear power generation,” he said. “We, on the other hand, will defend it. We must do this because today we have every opportunity to be among the first [in nuclear energy], both in Europe and in the world.”

But at the same time the Ukrainian government is creating an extremely dangerous situation for the global environment and its border neighbors.

By entrusting the project to a company with no experience in building large nuclear storage facilities and limited scientific and technological base for the elimination of nuclear accidents and the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel planned for accumulation, the Ukrainian authorities might yet but provoke an uncontrolled environmental disaster that might dramatically change the Eurasia’s landscape.

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