Ukraine is also fighting for energy sovereignty.

Alarm: Exercise of the Ministry of Emergencies of Ukraine, Zaporizhia, 17 August 2022

Dimitar Dilkoff AFP Getty

Men In a Sept. 11 phone call with Emmanuel Macron, Vladimir Putin reiterated earlier warnings of potential disaster at the Russian-owned Zaporizhia nuclear power plant. On the same day, news broke that the last of his six 1000 MW reactors had been shut down for safety reasons.

All summer long, Russia and Ukraine have accused each other of shelling the facility and the surrounding area. Kyiv accused Russia of stationing heavy weapons at the factory and using them to bombard Ukrainian positions across the Dnieper. In early August, Volodymyr Zelensky threatened to respond, but on July 19, Ukrainian “kamikaze” drones had already attacked Russian forces stationed at the factory. Shortly after meeting with Moscow, Moscow claimed that there had been up to 26 Ukrainian attacks.

Since the spring, international concern has arisen over Russia’s occupation of Zaporizhia in southeastern Ukraine. Her 1977 Protocol II to the 1949 Geneva Conventions, ratified by both Ukraine and Russia, prohibits attacks on nuclear facilities. .’

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has requested that its inspectors be allowed access to the plant. Ukraine initially refused on the grounds that this could justify the occupation of the facility by Russia, but agreed to allow inspectors to travel to the factory through Ukrainian-controlled territory over the summer. The Kremlin called an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council amid repeated accusations of “Russian blackmail” over Zaporizhia.

The IAEA was under intense pressure as both sides harbored concerns about a “second Chernobyl”. Kyiv wanted to demilitarize the factory. Moscow claimed Ukraine was doing most of the artillery fire. IAEA report (1) called for an immediate cessation of shelling (without sharing responsibility) and proposed setting up an (undefined) “protection zone” around the factory. It called the situation “unbearable” and a “constant threat to nuclear safety and security, as critical safety functions (especially radioactive containment and cooling) could be affected”. Officials pointed to significant damage, with a hole in the roof of a building used to store new fuel rods and radioactive waste. They were also concerned about the working conditions of Ukrainian engineers, who were under pressure from the Russian military.

geopolitical war objectives

Zaporizhzhia is not only a nuclear safety issue, but also a geopolitical war objective. For Ukraine, this is a question of energy sovereignty. Before the Russian invasion, his six reactors at the power plant produced her 20% of Ukraine’s electricity. On August 25, the power plant was disconnected from the Ukrainian power grid for several hours, with Ukraine fearing Russia would reconnect the power plant to its own network (a move the US State Department called the move “unacceptable”). ). (2)IAEA inspectors noted that much of the shelling targeted high-voltage lines, substations and transformers east of factories in an area partially occupied by Russia.

Ukrainian nuclear power plants built during the Soviet era were connected to the power grids of Russia and Belarus until this year. Most media seem unaware that Ukraine had cut Russia’s power grid hours before the invasion in order to carry out a scheduled test. It remained disconnected due to the war, which made it even easier to add it to the EU grid via Poland in March, and his plan to connect the Ukrainian power plant to his EU network has been linked to Russia’s annexation of Crimea. and was first filed in 2015, just months after the start of the Donbass conflict. France has mobilized grid operator RTE to help Ukraine, while electricity wholesaler EDF Trading has partnered with Polish energy group Polenergia and U.S. utility Westinghouse to provide some of the needed funding (totaling $2.6 billion). partnered with and supported Ukraine eventually hoped to export cheap electricity to Europe.

On the Russian side, it is clear that the capture of Ukraine’s nuclear power plants (15 reactors in total) has been one of Putin’s main objectives from the beginning. The Russians took control of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant on February 24, the first day of the invasion, where they remained until March 31. They occupied the Zaporizhia factory on March 4th. They also launched an unsuccessful attack in Mikolaiv province, with the aim of taking power plants in southern Ukraine.

Despite the war, the US and Russia are holding secret talks about sharing the opportunities presented by Ukraine’s nuclear program. An insider said off the record, “Both the US and Ukraine know that they cannot build her AP1000 plant in Ukraine without Russia’s help.”

One reason is to maintain Russian control over Ukraine’s nuclear facilities. For many years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia provided maintenance (spare parts were supplied by Belarus), nuclear fuel and waste management for his VVER pressurized water reactor of Soviet design in Ukraine. . Kazakhstan supplied uranium as fuel, which Russia enriched and sent to Ukraine. In 2010, her TVEL, a subsidiary of Russia’s state-owned nuclear power company Rosatom, sold $608 million worth of her nuclear fuel to Ukraine, its largest customer at the time.

Since the 2000s, Ukraine has sought to diversify its sources of nuclear fuel and upgrade its old reactors. Following the Orange Revolution, the government turned to the US company Westinghouse, but there were problems at first: in 2012, a serious accident occurred at a plant in southern Ukraine where Westinghouse was testing fuel made by the company. , the core of the reactor was severely damaged. Adapting the fuel to the limits of Soviet technology was a time-consuming and careful process, but after several failures, Westinghouse’s fuel is now in Ukraine. of which 4 are in Zaporizhia.

In recent years, Russia has put pressure on Ukraine to maintain connectivity between its nuclear systems. Zelensky’s predecessor, Petro Poroshenko, promised Westinghouse a majority share of the Ukrainian nuclear fuel market (before he changed his mind). Then, starting in 2019, Ukraine chose to order less fuel from Russia, and Energoatom, which operates the country’s nuclear power plants, decided to buy most of its fuel from Westinghouse.

Agreement with the United States

In August 2021, the U.S. and Ukrainian governments agreed for Westinghouse to build a nuclear fuel production unit in Skidny. A month later, Westinghouse and Energoatom signed a memorandum of understanding on building his four new AP1000 nuclear reactors in Ukraine worth a total of $30 billion. Under the new contract, signed in June 2022, Westinghouse will build a total of nine new reactors. The US company began bidding for contracts in 2018 under the Trump administration, which hoped the US would make a strong comeback in the civilian nuclear market in the face of competition from China and Russia.

Putin is concerned about Ukraine’s reconciliation with the United States, which he considers not only an insult, but a threat. (The Chernobyl reactor has been shut down for years after the 1986 accident, because the factory houses large amounts of nuclear waste that could be used to make bombs.) , is a strategic target.)

To fully understand Russia’s reaction, see the Budapest Memorandum of Understanding signed in 1994 by Ukraine, Russia, the United States, and the United Kingdom (and by the remaining declared nuclear powers France and China in 1995). Must go back. Return to Russia the nuclear weapons inherited from the Soviet Union in exchange for guarantees of territorial integrity and security. While the agreement was hailed as a model for nuclear disarmament (Ukraine signed the UN non-proliferation treaty in parallel), it had a major loophole: it did not impose any practical obligations on the signatories to defend Ukraine. It did not offer sanctions or binding measures. If one of the signatories breaches the contract. Since Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, some members of Ukraine’s elite have publicly regretted disarmament in their country. (3).

‘We are not safe’

The concerns are not limited to Ukraine. Former Polish Defense Minister Radosław Sikorski said in June that Russia had violated the Budapest memorandum and that the West “has the right to give Ukraine a nuclear warhead to protect its independence.” On February 19, at this year’s Munich Security Conference, Zelensky said that if the signatories of the memorandum did not immediately renegotiate, Ukraine would consider itself exempt from its historic commitments. i don’t have Also, no security.

Peace talks held in late March under the auspices of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan failed, but Zelensky said Ukraine was ready to consider neutrality, Russia withdrew, and the international community He said he would not develop nuclear weapons if he guaranteed their safety. (Four): ‘The nuclear-free state of our state — we are ready to do it. That’s the most important point… they started the war because of it.

While supporting Ukraine’s civilian nuclear program, the United States wants to maintain dialogue with Russia on the issue. Donald Trump has appointed John Reichert, a senior civil servant and former director of the US Center for Weapons of Mass Destruction Research, to assess Ukraine’s nuclear situation. Today, despite the war, the United States and Russia hold secret talks on sharing the opportunities presented by Ukraine’s civilian nuclear programme. “Both the US and Ukraine know that they cannot build her AP1000 plant in Ukraine without Russia’s help,” said a global nuclear industry insider privately. Ukraine is also fighting for energy sovereignty.

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