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Ukraine: Chornobyl May Not Close By Year 2000 Deadline

Kyiv, 11 February 1998 (RFE/RL) - Ukraine might not meet its obligation to close the Chornobyl nuclear power plant by 2000, because two new nuclear reactors intended to compensate for the station's closure might not be completed by that date.

Ukraine's Environment Minister Yury Kostenko yesterday told a Kyiv news conference: "We won't be able to close the Chornobyl plant until the two new reactors are completed. Otherwise, we won't be able to keep our energy system balanced."

The reactors in question are located at the Rivne and Khmelnytsky nuclear power stations in western Ukraine, and were mostly completed in the Soviet era. However, lack of funds left the two facilities standing virtually untouched, since Ukraine's independence in 1991.

Ukraine has already spent over a year in negotiations with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), about providing a loan to complete the two reactors. The talks stalled last Summer, because an EBRD scientific group labeled the project economically inefficient. These talks are to resume February 17, when EBRD President Charles Frank is scheduled to arrive in Kyiv.

Environment Minister Kostenko says the negotiations may be more fruitful this time, as the project, estimated to cost $1.2 billion, was positively evaluated by another group of EBRD researchers. "If we secure the EBRD loan this year, the Rivne and Khmelnytsky reactors can be completed in 2001," he said.

Kostenko said the government is simultaneously negotiating with Russia to get a $100-to-$150 million loan for completion of the two reactors.

On a separate issue, Ecology Minister Kostenko said the first installment of funds to help finance closing Chornobyl will arrive in the Spring. He said that, of the $400 million collected from Western donors last year, $172 million will come to Ukraine in April.

The announcement followed talks in London last week between Ukrainian officials and representatives of the Group of Seven (G-7) leading industrial nations.

Kostenko said the arrival of money became possible after Ukraine's Parliament ratified this month (Feb 4) an agreement with the EBRD, which is also handling this transaction.

The EBRD loans for the other two reactors is a separate issue.

Kostenko said Chornobyl's operation after 2000 will not mean Ukraine did not keep its obligations.

"We have stressed repeatedly that the closure of Chornobyl depends primarily on the completion of the facilities to offset the closure," said Kostenko. "The two reactors will be completed even if Ukraine has to do it on its own."

Ukraine's President Leonid Kuchma has pledged that Chornobyl would be closed by 2000. This date is also included in the 1995 memorandum between Ukraine and G7 countries about Chornobyl.

Chornobyl's only operational reactor, number three, is currently undergoing repairs and is scheduled to be restarted in March. The first and second reactors have already been shut down, while reactor number four was the source of the 1986 catastrophe.