The Verkhovna Rada declared on 24 October 1991 a nuclear-free status of the country. The Parliament adopted the Law “On the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons”.
Instead, the country has received security guarantees. On 5 December 1994, the leaders of Ukraine, the USA, Russian Federation and United Kingdom signed the Budapest Memorandum.
France and China, the other two parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, that possessed nuclear weapons at the time of signing the Budapest Memorandum, have given similar guarantees and made appropriate statement but did not put their signatures in this document.
The last Ukrainian nuclear missile was recycled in 2001. Georgii Kopchynsky, independent expert and former Head of “Gosatom”, named on the air of “Golos Stolitsy” radio station the benefits and drawbacks of Ukraine after receiving the status of a nuclear-free country.
— Did Ukraine lose or only win after abandoning the nuclear status on 24 October 1991?
— In my opinion, Ukraine only won and didn’t lose anything resulting from this. It received sufficient authority in the world, and today, when talking about the renewal of the nuclear status of Ukraine, it seems to me, those who preach this kind of idea do not understand what they are talking about. In order to possess nuclear weapons, it is necessary to have highly enriched uranium or plutonium. Natural uranium includes fissile isotope, uranium-235; and this is 0.7% of the whole weight. The bomb should include at least 90% of it, and if we talk about plutonium, enough capacity of the uranium extraction plant is required in order to extract it from irradiated nuclear fuel of NPPs. This all costs tens of billions of dollars. It is an absolutely unplayable sum for Ukraine in the near future.
— Thus, is it right that Ukraine does not have any technical and financial possibility to return the nuclear status?
— That’s right. There is an another very important factor, namely political one. Yes, in 1991 Ukraine became a fully valid member of the International Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. And if Ukraine will ever take any measures toward obtaining the nuclear status, though this is almost impossible, it will become very quickly a political outsider in the world like North Korea at present. It should not be forgotten. Besides, what for will these people use nuclear weapons? Will they use them in the Chornobyl zone? It is really impossible today taking into account the international agreement to ban nuclear weapons tests.
— In September, North Korea performed the second nuclear test during one year. How realistic is the threat from the republic to cause nuclear catastrophe?
—The probability of nuclear crisis is increasing in the world of nuclear weapons, it is quite obvious. The international Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons was signed exactly to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons, this is obviously.
— Is there any prospect for North Korea to get a nuclear bomb in the near future?
— I don’t know the level of all these current developments in North Korea, but the fact is obvious that this contradicts with general logic of the existence of the world civilization.
— To what extent the Ukrainian science preserves its potential in this direction?
— We haven’t had special potential in the nuclear field. Of course, some efforts were performed in Kharkiv and Kyiv Nuclear Research Institute, we involved well-known scientists, and a certain school exists currently. Such school can be formed, and it’s not really hard. But those costs that would be needed to create the entire infrastructure for the possession of nuclear weapons are just too high, and today only a not very informed person can discuss this topic.
— With regard to the peaceful use of nuclear energy – does the country preserve its scientific potential?
— It is very difficult to discuss this because no real school of physics and technology of nuclear reactors existed in Ukraine. We have never been the designers of reactor facilities; we do not have relevant test benches and relevant scientific units focused precisely on the design and scientific justification. For this reason, we should use the technologies that are developed in other countries. But from the point of view of the whole existence of nuclear energy and its continued support at the current level, Ukraine has all the things needed, and we should strive for this because nuclear power is the basic branch of economy of Ukraine today. The exclusion of nuclear power in the country would be a disaster.
—Is it possible and necessary to reduce the share of nuclear energy in the Ukrainian energy system?
— In order to answer the question, I have to remind the state of heat or traditional power engineering. There is critical situation and the crisis comes. After all, no proper thermal power plant has been built within all these years. We operate thermal power units which were designed in the 50-60ths of the last century. Almost all thermal power plants have expired lifetime. And today, nobody wants to think what will happen tomorrow.
First of all, nuclear energy is younger than thermal power engineering of Ukraine, we have uranium to provide nuclear fuel for us, and we have certain school, we have certain traditions, knowledge, etc. As to renewable energy sources, some absurdity is obvious here. All the time a certain source of energy is compared with other energy source. And the situation of energy consumption in the world is such that it is necessary today to save dung and use everything because hydrocarbon resources are rapidly reduced and they are already close to exhaustion. Whether the humanity likes it or not, it will use all possible energy sources in the nearest future.
— How safe is the current situation of Ukrainian nuclear power plants? The country is trying to use Westinghouse fuel assemblies, although reactors for such fuel assemblies have not been originally envisaged.
— The Americans manufacture fuel assemblies for our nuclear power plants based on the Russian drawings. As for the structural components and material used, there are no problems and challenges. Diversification or searching for a provider who is not a monopolist is a reasonable and correct step. You never know what can happen in political and economic terms. And in case of any natural disaster we may loss fuel supply. Therefore, the cooperation with the Westinghouse Company and using their capabilities for the supply of fresh fuel assemblies to Ukrainian NPPs is absolutely correct. And they do not threaten safety at all. Yes, there were some troubles, but they were on the Russian and Soviet fuel assemblies, when their development was started. The USA use Russian nuclear fuel, and every tenth lamp there is burning due to the Russian Federation, moreover, Russian company “TVEL” starts supply of fresh fuel assemblies to the U.S. nuclear power plant. So why does it happen there – and it is normal there, and we …