The major problems for Russia with Ukraine’s new moves to become a major nuclear energy power in Europe (although it recently sold 40% of its leading nuclear organization to “foreign investors” at fire-sale prices) are probably more of a transparency and military nature than a safety or economic one. This is because the pattern of contamination from future nuclear accidents would likely follow the Chernobyl pattern to Europe, which Russia is already distancing itself from by attributing any disaster solely to the supplier of the replacement rods.[i]
True, there are compatibility and reliability problems with fuel rods supplied for Russian and Soviet-era reactors by Westinghouse. In the recent alleged case of the 100-sq.-km atomic contamination in the Ukraine, it’s claimed by some that the zirconium cladding of substitute rods had leaked at the world’s fifth largest nuke power plant—the Zaporozhye facility.[ii],[iii] Those not familiar with nuclear energy may not be aware that a rod just can’t be pulled out and a replacement rod “slapped in”. Putting in a fresh rod requires an exact match, not just with the physical structure but complex calculations relating to the enrichment level of existing rods.[iv]
Under the previous regimen, Russia handled fuel rod reprocessing and waste disposal. Control of the nuclear cycle itself was a safeguard against the eventuality of a regime in Kiev seeking to reinstate itself as an offensive nuclear power just a stone’s throw from Russia.
In the current situation, Ukrainian managers and their Western cohorts will no doubt be tempted to leave rods in the reactor for longer periods due to monetary and political considerations (e.g., desperate attempts to supply energy to the European grid for foreign currency, an inability to get or pay for new rods, a desire to deprive Russia of reactor-supply revenues and an effort to lower power costs.)
However, rods left in for longer periods get hit by more neutrons, hence they get more enriched and can more readily produce a “critical mass” necessary for nuclear fission (so-called “criticality”)[v] risking a Fukushima-like crude explosion, or can themselves serve as a source for fissile materials in a clandestine weapons program.
In plain English, this means rods left in 25% longer than specified will have far higher enrichment to weaponizable material (at least for a crude weapon) meaning there could be a nuclear accident at the reprocessing plant OR the material could be covertly processed and the fissile material extracted for weapons.
Is the possibility of a nuclear armed Ukraine so farfetched? On September 14, 2014, Ukrainian Defence Minister Valery Geletei is reported to have openly stated: “If we cannot protect [Ukraine] today, if the world does not help us, we will have to return to creation of these weapons to protect ourselves from Russia.”[vi]
[Please click below to continue reading] Continue reading Nuclear Proliferation: Bad in Iran, Good in Ukraine?, by Tom Mysiewicz