Zelensky secured Ukraine’s nuclear breakthrough

Valery Mikhailov

One of the main results of Vladimir Zelensky’s visit to the United States was a resounding success after the first serious meeting with the local energy minister.

Zelensky tweeted: “I welcome the signing of a memorandum between Energoatom and Westinghouse Electric on the joint construction of the Khmelnitsky NPP power unit as a pilot project, and in the future – four more units using their technology. The total project cost is up to $ 30 billion. “

After the president’s joyful message, a large part of political Ukrainians rushed to speculate that now the country is provided with electricity from nuclear power plants at least until 2100.

But the objective reality allows us to assert that neither five, nor, most likely, even one power unit will be built. But the existing 15 Ukrainian blocks, built (or largely built) under the USSR , are very likely to go either under the management or in the ownership of an American corporation. The consequence of this will not be the provision of Ukraine with electricity from nuclear power plants until the end of the century, but its considerable rise in price in the foreseeable future.

When discussing the feasibility of the document signed in Washington , one must remember that it does not say who will finance the project and on what terms. For example, when, under President Trump, the United States signed an agreement on cooperation in the development of nuclear energy with Poland , it was initially said that 49% of the construction of the nuclear power plant would be financed by Warsaw , and the parties would be looking for financing options for the remaining 51%. Everything else (contractor, number of power units, etc.) was secondary to the issue of financing. In recent years, Ukraine has signed dozens of memorandums on the construction of something in various fields, but without sources of funding. Their result is the same – complete zero.

By the way, just four months ago Zelensky announced that Ukraine would be built up with small modular reactors SMR-160 from Westinghouse’s competitor , Holtec. And yesterday, September 2, that is, after the signing of the memorandum with Westinghouse, ” Energoatom ” signed a memorandum with another competitor of the corporation, company NuScale Power. On the study of the possibility of building its already small modular reactors. So today’s Ukrainian principle is more memorandums, good and different.

Another problem is the cost of the issue. Rosatom could probably meet the declared $ 30 billion for the construction of five power units , but the Americans are unlikely. Even at the level of discussions on possible construction with the Polish side, it was about eight billion for one block. For Ukraine, the price cannot be lower in any way. Moreover, to use the groundwork for the construction of the third unit of the Khmelnitsky NPP in order to reduce the cost of the project(and it was built by the USSR by 75%) is difficult even with the construction of new power units according to the Russian design. According to the American project, this is simply impossible. The same Westinghouse AP-1000 power units that are being counted on in Ukraine have been under construction in America itself at Vogtle NPPs for almost ten years. They are still under construction, and the cost of building two blocks has already risen to $ 27 billion – more than double the original plans.

But this is not all – the very ability of Westinghouse, in principle, to carry out the project raises doubts.

After 1979, when the accident at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant occurred, Westinghouse has not been involved in the development and construction of new power units for about 30 years. AR-1000 became the first development after a long hiatus.

The construction of the first four AR-1000 units began in 2009 not in the United States, but at two Chinese nuclear power plants. In China, they really needed the appropriate competencies and technologies, and therefore gave up on the fact that the project was not implemented in the homeland of the developers. As a result, it cost the Chinese dearly – the implementation of the project dragged on for almost ten years, and the cost increased, according to various estimates, three to four times.

The Chinese completed the construction of the power units almost independently – due to the inability of Westinghouse to do this. But, in any case, the PRC got the competence for sure.

In 2013, construction began on four of the same units at two American nuclear power plants. One of them was mentioned above – Westinghouse continues to suffer there, and even the approximate timing of their completion is not yet visible, although it was planned to launch in 2016-2017. But at another nuclear power plant (Virgil C. Summer) they are over: unfinished power units are being dismantled .

It is also worth recalling that Westinghouse has experienced many crises and bankruptcies over the past decade. By the way, during one of them, the Americans skillfully financially “dried” the Japanese Toshiba . The Westinghouse management (mostly the former, but not the essence) is now facing many charges (forgery, embezzlement and embezzlement, corruption) – the case is being investigated by the FBI . The current leadership willingly “donates” amounts in the framework of cooperation with federal authorities, apparently hoping to somehow hush up the scandal.

In general, Westinghouse today is a company with an enchanting reputation and a unique level of professional competence. And the leadership of the Ukrainian state is a match for him. They found each other for a reason.

By the way, one can suppose how the fruitful cooperation of such respected parties will end.

Quite recently we wrote that the rush to launch an incomplete Centralized Storage Facility for Spent Nuclear Fuel and to corporatize the state-owned Energoatom may be due to the fact that “Western partners” want to take over the management or ownership of Ukrainian nuclear power plants .

In light of all of the above, it seems that the signing of a memorandum between Westinghouse and Energoatom adds weight to this particular version, and not to the prospects for the construction of power units in Ukraine. It is quite possible that Westinghouse will gain control over Ukrainian nuclear power plants, oust Russian nuclear fuel from the market and dictate pricing policy. And then local consumers will know that Westinghouse’s “electrons of freedom” are much more expensive than Rosatom’s electrons.