A pro-Russian separatist leader in eastern Ukraine claims the former Soviet republic has taken a big risk by using fuel from a U.S. company in its nuclear power plants.
But Ukraine's state nuclear corporation denied Denis Pushilin's claim that radiation levels at the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant exceeded acceptable norms.
Pushilin, the so-called deputy chairman of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic, undermined the credibility of his claims by referring to the U.S. company as "Western house" instead of Westinghouse.
The Russian news agency Interfax reported that in a statement on December 28, Pushilin said Ukraine faces "a second Chornobyl" due to Kyiv's decision to use nuclear fuel supplied by Westinghouse -- a reference to the deadly 1986 nuclear power plant accident that spead radioactivity over parts of Europe.
Pushilin said that "currently the level of radiation is 14 times higher than the acceptable norm" in the area around the Zaporizhzhya plant and that the problem started November 28 "after an unsuccessful attempt to replace rods in the Russian-made third block (reactor) with the product of the American company Western house."
Interfax said it could not confirm "from any other source" the separatist official's claim of dangerous levels of radioactivity near the plant, which lies west of the areas held by pro-Russian separatists in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
The state nuclear corporation, Energoatom, said a problem with a generator had prompted technicians at the Zaporizhzhya plant to disconnect its sixth reactor from the power supply on December 28.
Energoatom said radiation levels at the plant and around it were within the normal range of "natural background radiation in the area."
Earlier this month, Energy Minister Volodymyr Demchyshyn said an accident on November 28 in the energy transfer system of the plant's No. 3 power-generating unit had prompted authorities to disconnect reactor No. 3 at the plant, which has six 1,000-megawatt reactors.
At that time, Demchyshyn said there was "no radiation leakage."
The reactors at Zaporizhzhya, Europe's largest nuclear plant, were built according to a different design than those at the Chornobyl plant.
Westinghouse has a contract to supply some 10 percent to 15 percent of Ukraine's nuclear fuel. Under the deal, which was extended until 2020 this year, the U.S.-based company could supply as much as 25 percent of Ukraine's nuclear fuel by the end of the contract period.
Russia's TVEL, a subsidiary of Russian state nuclear corporation Rosatom, continues to supply the bulk of nuclear fuel for Ukraine's reactors, all of which are Soviet- or Russian-built.
Ukraine, which relies on nuclear power for about half its electricity and gets much of its natural gas from Russia, is seeking to decrease dependence on Moscow for energy amid a conflict over Russia's annexation of Crimea and the deadly fighting between government forces and pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine.
Pushilin also claimed the Temelin nuclear power plant in the Czech Republic experienced problems similar to those he claimed occurred at Zaporizhzhya when local technicians attempted to use foreign fuel in the Russian-built reactor.
He did not identify any source for the claim and did not provide details to support it.
Temelin initially used fuel from Westinghouse, but TVEL won a contract in 2006 to supply fuel for its two reactors for 10 years starting in 2010.
Rosatom and other Russian companies compete with companies from other countries for contracts to build nuclear power plants and supply them with fuel.
With reporting by Interfax, RIA Novosti, NTV, AP, and AFP