Public resistance to atomic adventures
In April 1999 Charles Frank, the first vice-president of the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), stated that "the EBRD is unaware of the existence in Ukraine of the mass resistance to the projects of the construction of the additional blocks of the Khmelnitska and Rivne atomic energy stations (AES)". It is obvious that the EBRD drew this conclusion basing on the information given by the Ukrainian government. So, there exits the question: is it true that Ukrainians are willing to have on their land two more reactors of archaic Soviet design, or the authorities merely misinformed (and continue to misinform) the international public including the European bank?
The question about the public attitude raises since the procedure of rendering credits from the international banks for large-scale technological projects envisages the obligatory consultations with the public about its attitude to the project. In other words, before giving money for some consecutive "construction of the century", a bank must learn if this construction is really needed by the inhabitants of the country, or the project represents the interests of some agency. The problem of taking into account the public opinion became especially urgent after the international conference in Orgus (Denmark) held in March 1998 approved the European "Convention on the access to information, participation of the public in taking decisions and on the access to justice in the questions concerning environment". Now Europe has the legal document, according to which every state must take account of the public opinion while realizing projects, which may influence the environment. The Orgus Convention was ratifies by Ukraine too, so it is considered as a part of the national legislation. "Atomic energy stations and other atomic reactors, including their turning off and dismounting" is acknowledged by the Convention as a topic, about which the atomic agencies must come to the common view with the people. Ukrainians least of all need to be explained that "the peaceful atom" is not so peaceful.
The mighty public resistance was the reason of stopping the construction of similar additional reactors at the AES in Mochovets (Czechia), which construction was also planned to be realized for the EBRD credit. The Czech government did not dare to go against the will of their people, since during the public consultations the people said unanimous "no" to the project. And have we ever been asked about the Khmelnitska and Rivne AESs (KhAES and RAES)? And if we were asked, did somebody hear our answer?
The public resistance to the further widening of the Ukrainian atomic energy production was formed as a mighty public force in late 80s-early 90s. In April 1990, being influenced by mass protests, the Khmelnitska oblast rada prohibited the construction of the second, third and fourth blocks of the KhAES. In the same year the Supreme Rada approved of the moratorium for constructing or enraging any objects of atomic energy production. Thus, owing to the public pressure and the support of some political movements, the construction of the additional reactors at the Khmelnitska, Rivne, Zaporozhye AES was suspended. Unfortunately, politicians forget their promises too fast: as early as in 1993 the Supreme Rada cancelled its own decision about the moratorium. At the same time the public activity declined because of the deterioration of economic situation in the country and loss of belief in the democratic principles. This enabled the government to finish the construction of the sixth block of the Zaporozhye AES, although at the local level the resistance remained. At the same time the economic crisis impeded not only public activities, but also those of the government. According to "Energoatom", the additional blocks of the KhAES and RAES were already completed for 85%, but there appeared no money in Ukraine to finish the construction. Having great experience to bargain about nuclear weapons, the government began to use Chernobyl as an argument in negotiations with the West. That was the beginning of the project concerning the KhAES and RAES under the slogan of "recompensing" for closing the Chernobyl AES, and the EBRD became involved in the fate of Ukrainian energy production and maybe even democracy. The participation of the EBRD in this project activated public ecological organizations, who interpreted the Banks policy concerning the public consultations as a real opportunity to express their worries about the project and to encourage the public protest.
In 1998 more than 80 Ukrainian public organizations took part in the campaign of public hearings and actions devoted to the Ukrainian government project of the additional construction at the KhAES and RAES. In particular, members of the all-Ukrainian public Coalition "For energetic safety, knowledge and citizens rights" including 28 public organizations initiated and organized (predominantly for their own expenses) from October 1997 to May 2000 the public hearings in 11 towns of Ukraine: Nikolayev, Severodonetsk, Chortkiv, Iziaslav, Piriatin, Lugansk, Nezhin, Nikopol, Slavuta, Artemovsk and Cherkassy. Besides, the company "Energoatom" held three consultative meetings in Netishin, Rivne and Kyiv in October following the procedure of the EBRD. Some time later the hearings were conducted in Kyiv, Lviv, Rivne and other places. All of them demonstrated the unanimous negative attitude public to enlarging the atomic energy generation.
At the same time signatures were collected and the campaign was organized for addressing the government and the EBRD administration. For example, students of the Chortkiv teachers school and students of the senior grades of the Chortkiv gymnasium addressed more than 300 letters to H. Kjoler, the general manages of the EBRD, expressing their protest against the KhAES-2/RAES-4 project. There were many other initiatives, but they came across the resistance of the authorities, which did their best to prevent the public hearings. For instance, in Dubno, Khmelnitskiy, Kyiv, Zaporozhye, Vinnitsa, Ivano-Frankivsk and Zhytomir the bureaucratic resistance appeared powerful enough to prohibit the hearings. The main goal of the hearings was to realize citizens rights for the free access to information about the state of the environment and distribution of this information (Article 50 of the Ukrainian Constitution), for participation in ruling state affairs (Article 38 of the Constitution), in particular, for participation in shaping the state policy in the sphere of using atomic energy and radiation safety (Articles 11 and 20 of the Law "On using atomic energy and radiation safety").
All hearings were conducted according to Resolution of the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine No. 1122 of 18 June 1998 "On the procedure of public hearings concerning the questions of using atomic energy and radiation safety". Unfortunately, during four years the Cabinet of Ministers did nothing for learning and generalizing of the hearings results. For example, the Chortkiv ecological union "Zeleny svit" sent in 1999-2000 the requests about this to the Ukrainian government and the Ministry of ecology and has received no answers until now. The authorities also did not react to the letters concerning the beginning (at the 15th year of the construction!) of the state ecological expertise of the KhAES/RAES project. We have not got any conclusions of the expertise. After all, it is even not known whether the expertise was conducted at all…
In what follows we present a somewhat abbreviate d text of one of our appeals.
Ministry of ecology and natural resources of Ukraine
27 February 2001
To Minister Ivan Zaets
in the connection with the ecological expertise of the project of the construction of the additional atomic reactors KhAES-2 and RAES-4 conducted by the Ministry of ecology and natural resources of Ukraine we ask you to take into account the opinion about this project of our NGO and the public of our region.
On 16 November 1998 the NGO "Zeleny svit" initiated and conducted in Chortkiv the public hearings concerning the nuclear safety. The participants of the hearings unanimously expressed the negative opinion to the construction of the blocks KhAES-2 and RAES-4.
Unfortunately, the results of the hearings in Chortkiv were not reflected in a printed report, although the text of the conclusions were sent to the Cabinet of Ministers, Supreme Rada, "Energoatom" and the Kyiv office of the EBRD at the proper time. Neither the organization committee of the public hearings nor our union received any response from the government or the Supreme Rada concerning the problems discussed at the hearings. We received answers from the Ministry of energy production and the Administration of nuclear regulation of Ukraine. These agencies, being limited in their competence, could not answer fully for all our questions.
The NGO "Zeleny svit" is a member of the all-Ukrainian public Coalition "For energetic safety, knowledge and citizens rights". We regard the realization of the project KhAES-1/RAES-4 as unreasonable from the ecological, economic and legal points of view. We believe that the modern technological level does not guarantee solving many problems of the atomic energy production, including the main one – the problem of nuclear waste. Taking into account the large-scale crisis of the Ukrainian economy, the opportunity to guarantee the sufficient level of safety at the AESs seems very problematic. In our opinion, the level of danger caused by the errors of designing the KhAES and RAES is not evaluated yet. It is enough to recollect the unsatisfactory geological conditions of the RAES site and the shortage of water for cooling the KhAES reactors. The quality of the main project documents does not agree with operating national laws.
We believe that the further development of the atomic energy stations in Ukraine might be successfully recompensed by using the technologies of energy economy, modern energy sources, untraditional and local fuel. We are addressing the Ministry of ecology and natural resources of Ukraine with the proposition to make public your own opinion concerning the realization of the project KhAES-2/RAES-4 from the viewpoint of nuclear safety and the problems, which may be caused by the development of atomic energy production.
We ask you to inform us about your actions in this respect. The text of the conclusions of the public hearings in Chortkiv is appended.