The Nuclear Safety Department
With three decades’ experience in nuclear safety work, the EBRD is uniquely placed to participate in discussions about the industry’s potential role in addressing urgent concerns such as climate change, sustainability and energy security.
The EBRD is actively involved in assisting its countries of operations address pressing nuclear safety concerns, including:
- Closure and decommissioning of potentially unsafe nuclear power plants
- Remediation of contaminated sites
- Safe management of radioactive waste
- Safety and security improvements at nuclear installations.
The invasion of Ukraine, and the brief occupation by Russian forces of Chornobyl, have added fresh urgency to the remaining work at the site. One of EBRD’s top priorities is to reduce heightened nuclear safety risks in Ukraine, and to address its significant restoration and remediation needs.
From its inception, the EBRD has recognised the significant nuclear and radiological risks prevalent in its countries of operations, most dramatically demonstrated by the Chornobyl accident of 26 April 1986. Through the generosity of our donors, we are implementing a series of complex and long-term projects to reduce hazards and improve the safety and wellbeing of people in the places where we work.
Emergency safety upgrades at some of the most risky Soviet-designed reactors were among the earliest projects undertaken by the EBRD’s Nuclear Safety Department. The objective was to help create the conditions for the closure of the plants as quickly as possible. Since the late 1990s, together with many donors, and in particular the G7 and the European Union, we have supported Bulgaria, Lithuania, the Slovak Republic and Ukraine in decommissioning such nuclear power units.
This assistance includes the financing of facilities to safely store spent nuclear fuel and manage radioactive waste as well as decontamination and dismantling tasks. In EU accession countries, the support also includes measures to help them address the loss of generating capacity, ranging from energy efficiency measures to replacement capacity.
The Bank has also managed donor-financed nuclear and environmental safety projects in northwest Russia associated with the legacy of radioactive waste and spent fuel from nuclear submarine programme of the Soviet Northern Fleet. This work is now concluded.
Most recently, the EBRD has been active in cleaning up former uranium mining and processing facilities in Central Asia to protect the local population from the risks of toxic and radioactive waste which also threatens to contaminate the regional water supply.
One of the most complex nuclear safety programmes undertaken by the Nuclear Safety Department was the transformation of the site of the 1986 Chornobyl accident. The single largest project in this program was the design and construction of the New Safe Confinement, the vast structure moved into place to safely enclose the site of the accident, Reactor 4. It now provides safe working conditions for deconstruction and radioactive waste management works to be carried out over the next 100 years. The Chernobyl Shelter Fund, which pooled donor funds and which has co-funded this programme jointly with the EBRD, was closed in 2020 after its successful completion.
In parallel, the EBRD managed work to create a brand new spent nuclear fuel processing and storage facility at Chornobyl, ISF2. The previous wet storage site had come to the end of its design life and presented a serious threat of leakage from the pools where the fuel rods were submerged. ISF2 is fully operational.
The Nuclear Safety Account (NSA) was set up in 1993 by the G7 to provide safety assistance and urgent nuclear safety improvements to Soviet-designed nuclear power plants in Bulgaria, Lithuania and Russia. Since the late nineties, the NSA also supports the decommissioning of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine. Overall, the fund has received around € 540 million from 19 donors.
Current priorities and strategic considerations
The Russian invasion has created new and unexpected radiological and nuclear risks in Ukraine. The Bank firmly supports Ukraine and, in cooperation with the international community, will do what is in its power to mitigate these risks.
An area of focus is the restoration of safe and secure working conditions in Chornobyl, where Russian forces destroyed vital infrastructure and looted or shattered safety equipment. Longer term, the sustainable operation of infrastructure provided through EBRD-led programmes at the Chornobyl site will be an important priority. A new multilateral Fund, the International Chernobyl Cooperation Account, was created for this purpose.
The EBRD has previously funded crucial safety upgrades to Ukraine’s nuclear power plants and stands ready to support Ukraine in preserving nuclear safety at its other nuclear facilities.
The debate on the role of nuclear energy is currently changing in light of requirements imposed by the need for a transition to low carbon economies, as well as new considerations on security of supply in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Countries in our region, as elsewhere, will make a decision on whether or not to preserve their existing nuclear capacities. Some may enter or expand nuclear energy generation, including new technologies to meet their climate targets and diversify energy sources. The EBRD will use its expertise to help ensure that high safety standards are maintained in this area.
The EBRD’s Nuclear Safety Department is grateful for close cooperation with the donor community, without whose funding this vital work would not be possible.