Chernobyl and the Ukraine Crisis

Photo on behalf of the EBRD on Flickr
Since the autumn of 2013 and the protests and demonstrations taking place at Maidan, the Square of Independence in Kiev, the unrest of Ukraine has only increased. Barely had the, by media more than slightly exaggerated, uprisings at Maidan calmed down before the Crimea crisis occurred and these days we are looking at something very similar to a fully fledged civil war going on in eastern Ukraine, and a question to be answered is how this all may affect Chernobyl.

Recent news indicate a fear concerning what would happen in case of a Russian invasion as the nuclear power plants of Ukraine are said to be a highly potential target. On March 25th, the at the time acting minister of foreign affairs of Ukraine, Andriy Deshchytsia*, said that "At present, there is no immediate danger [regarding the nuclear power plants]. However, if the situation aggravates Ukraine may be in need of international assistance to protect these facilities." Further on Deshchytsia said that two possible options for Ukraine remained, as well as two possible options from the outside world of how to act and react: 

"First, there are already political voices in Ukraine calling to resume production of nuclear weapons as the only means to protect ourselves from any outside aggression. From the Ukrainian government's standpoint, this option is not on the table. We remain committed to the NPT as a non-nuclear state."

The second option for Ukraine is to seek collective security. It is less expensive and more effective. We shall explore all possibilities in this regard, starting with our association with the European Union." 

Ukraine got rid of its nuclear warheads twenty years ago and five years later, all of the said was destroyed. About five months have passed since Andriy Deshchytsia made his statement and things haven't exactly been brightening up for Ukraine, but does it really face a Russian invasion? That remains to be seen, but there is no threat concerning the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. One of the most urgent questions at the moment may have been whether money will be taken from the Shelter Project in order to finance the national defense in case of Ukraine getting involved in war but the answer is no: The Shelter Project is mainly financed by EU and the U.S and the funds cannot be extracted, however Ukraine's already limping economical situation may cause the project further delays. Chernobyl itself will of course not be a direct target in case of a Russian invasion, but national resources may be drawn from the Shelter Project in order to support the national defense. The annual amount spent on the Shelter Project and Chernobyl is about 5-7% of the Ukrainian budget.

"Any unrest affects a country's economy, and remediation is not a profitable activity. To carry it out, we need funding from the state budget. The less money we have the less could be done." those are the words of Oleg Nasvit, a nuclear physicist at the National Institute for Strategic Studies in Kiev. However, the International Monetary Fund has pledged $17 billion in order to keep Ukraine's economy relatively stable over the coming two years and this far there are no signs of withdrawing the Chernobyl budget. It's a project concerning nuclear safety, which exceeds the borders of politics and all current peaceful nuclear activity in Ukraine is under a strict IAEA supervision.

*You may read Andriy Deshchytsia's full statement here

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