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Experts concern over Ukrainian nuclear power plants safety

Earlier Energoatom and Westinghouse Electric Sweden agreed to extend the contract to 2020 to supply nuclear fuel

MOSCOW, April 26 (Itar-Tass) - Twenty eight years have passed since the Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster, consequences of which are not completely eliminated yet.

Millions of people who dealt with the disaster risking their lives did everything possible to reduce radiation contamination. Five million people still live in contaminated regions in Ukraine, Belarus and Russia. According to the data of the Chernobyl Union, about 9,000 Russian "liquidators" (specialists who death with the disaster and its consequences) have died, and more than 55,000 have become disabled.

Russia marks April 26 as Day of Liquidators and Memory of Victims.

Chernobyl raised a lot of questions for Russian atomic energy specialists. Certainly, the first is safety. Over the years, almost all the old technologies have been revised, and new systems have been developed to prevent accidents.

The industry has changed very much since the Chernobyl disaster. Great work has been done at all the nuclear power plants for their modernization, which was financed substantially. It included latest safety systems, better fuel and improved control, said a member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, the director of the Institute of Safe Atomic Energy Development, Leonid Bolshov.

"During the 28 years, the world and Russian energy sectors worked to prevent disasters such as Chernobyl. All the plants were modernized. At present, atomic energy has excellent technologies," notes the president of the Kurchatov Institute, Yevgeny Velikhov. "In the coal mining and gas industries, explosions, emissions and chemical pollution occur. According to statistics, the lowest death toll is in the atomic energy sector. It is necessary to learn to make an atom safe so that it would not affect people's welfare anyhow," he said.

However, given the tense political situation in Ukraine, safety of nuclear power plants in the country causes serious concern among experts. There are also anxieties about Kiev's choice of the American company Westinghouse to supply nuclear fuel.

The head of the Rosatom state corporation, Sergei Kiriyenko, said safety risks were not ruled out in connection with the decision believed to be a political one.

The most important is that the atomic industry is an absolute security priority. All decisions should be based on well-considered technological, technical and commercial terms, he notes. It is desirable not to have political decisions to intervene. If decisions on atomic energy are taken proceeding from political considerations, it represents danger, he believes.

In 2009, Ukraine already decided to use American fuel for its NPP, and it caused serious problems, Kiriyenko reminded. "We were really concerned because Russian fuel was in the reactors and Westinghouse fuel was near it," he said. "This means we are also responsible for everything. We give guarantees for safe operation. If near our unit is a unit reliability of which is not guaranteed, it is a system threat both for our reputation and safety," he noted, adding at the same time that when a decision was taken within the standard international logic with reliability tests, and everything was in order, then it was absolutely normal.

In 2012, the problem was settled, Ukraine’s state nuclear supervision service, after experiments, decided to ban the use of Westinghouse fuel because of violation of technical requirements.

Nevertheless, as became known in early April, the Ukrainian state company Energoatom and Westinghouse Electric Sweden (the Swedish branch of the Westinghouse company) agreed to extend the contract to 2020 to supply nuclear fuel.

It is a political decision, and it is fraught with accident risks. It is a threat to nuclear and radiation security, says Albert Vasilyev, director of the international centre of ecological security and chief scientist at the research and design institute of energy technologies.

Any political crisis and confrontation always are threats to security, notes Bolshov. There is such danger, he answered when he was asked whether there was some threat to Ukrainian nuclear sites in case of deterioration of the situation in the country. "Ukrainian specialists and world atomic energy personnel, all know each other. Ukrainian specialists are also anxious about it. Nevertheless, everything is in order for the present," he said.