Russia says Ukraine deal to buy U.S. nuclear fuel poses safety risks

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko at a Dec. 14 memorial honoring those who lost their lives trying to contain the world's worst nuclear accident at Chernobyl, Ukraine, in 1986.
(Mykola Lazarenko / AFP/Getty Images)

Russia’s Foreign Ministry accused Ukraine of endangering public safety in Europe with its decision to buy nuclear fuel for its Soviet-built nuclear plants from a U.S. supplier, saying Ukrainian leaders had failed to learn anything from the 1986 Chernobyl disaster about safe nuclear energy usage.

“Moscow was somehow alarmed” over the deal announced earlier in the day by Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk for Kiev to buy fuel for its nuclear plants from U.S. company Westinghouse through the year 2020, the ministry said in a statement posted on its website.

“Consequences of possible accidents and meltdowns will be the full responsibility of the Ukrainian authorities and U.S. suppliers of the fuel,” the statement added.


The shift in supplier for the Ukrainian plants that produce 44% of the country’s electricity was part of an effort across Eastern Europe to diversify fuel supplies currently sourced almost exclusively from Russia’s monopoly Rosatom.

Westinghouse, majority-owned by the Toshiba Group and the builder and operator of more than half of the nuclear plants around the world, noted it “has been working in the Ukrainian market since 2003, and brings diversification of suppliers, global best practices and technology to the Ukraine market.

“Westinghouse fuel is currently operating safely and efficiently at the South Ukraine Nuclear Power Plant without any defects in performance,” the company noted in a statement from its global headquarters near Pittsburgh.

The Russian Foreign Ministry statement was carried in full by the country’s state-controlled media and appeared to signal Rosatom’s pique over erosion of its once-captive market.

“It seems that the Chernobyl tragedy did not teach Kiev authorities any lessons concerning a scientifically feasible approach to the [peaceful] use of nuclear energy,” the statement said. “In fact, it might be that nuclear safety is sacrificed for the sake of political ambitions.”

Chernobyl, in northern Ukraine near the Belarus border, was the scene of the world’s worst nuclear disaster when an explosion and fire destroyed the No. 4 reactor at the four-unit plant and sent up a radioactive cloud that circled the planet.

Russia has been chafing at Ukraine’s pivot toward economic and security alliance with the West and away from its traditional integration with Russia. The Security Council revised Russia’s military doctrine last week to label the U.S.-led North Atlantic Treaty Organization the greatest threat to Russian security and earlier in the week blamed the alliance for Ukraine’s decision to renounce its nonaligned status.


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