Future Ukrainian Electricity — Rising Risks

UN Secretary-General António Guterres formulated the following conditions for preventing catastrophic climate change on the planet at the Madrid Climate Conference in 2019:

  • reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 45% by 2030;
  • achieve carbon neutrality by 2050;
  • prevent an increase in average global temperature by more than 1.5 ᵒ

He emphasized that “… fossil fuels should always remain where it should be: underground. If we will not get rid of dependence on coal, then all attempts to stop climate changes will be doomed to failure”. The UN Secretary General’s statement was based on the provisions of the Paris Climate Agreement (2016), to which Ukraine is a party.

The situation is complicated by the continuous increase in global energy consumption that should increase by almost 1.5 times according to experts by 2050. It becomes obvious that terrestrial civilization has come to the line when its survival requires fundamental changes, primarily in the energy sphere. Carbon-free technologies that are based on sun, wind and water energy, as well as nuclear power that can provide humanity with energy for several millennia come to the forefront.

The technical and economic progress of green energy (wind and solar power plants) is obvious. Its positive role in solving energy and environmental problems is beyond doubt. However, green energy has several features to be considered when planning its widespread use in the country’s electricity industry. The main feature is instable performance due to the dependence on weather and seasonal fluctuations. There is no sun at night and no wind in calm.

Specialists of the EDF Company (France) argue that the installed capacity utilization factor in their country for wind power plants does not exceed 23%, and for solar power plants, it is not over 13%. This indicator drops to 4-5% in winter. Wind and power plant life is 15-20 years. All this negatively affects their technical and economic indicators. The experience of Germany, where the share of green energy reached 30% and the contribution of nuclear power plants decreased to 12% also confirms these estimates: the cost of electricity increased by 22% after the shutdown of 8 of 15 power units. It should be noted that only 46% of German power plants could be attributed to environmentally friendly ones. This indicator makes up 93% in France, where nuclear power dominates.

The situation can be improved by energy storage. However, despite significant progress, the capabilities of storage devices remain uncertain. The French calculated that a million-ton storage battery including 120,000 tons of lithium is required to store 1 TW *h of electricity. This is significantly more than its annual production in the world. Whether lithium reserves last for long is a question that has not yet been answered. There are doubts about the ability of storage batteries to store accumulated energy for a long time.

Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT, USA) published in December last year the research results that almost coincided with the conclusions of French experts. The authors of the research argue that there is an instability of energy systems for the share of green energy above 40% that is difficult to overcome; and this requires the use of special balancing capacities in parallel with the solar and wind power plants. According to American scientists, the most reasonable is the joint use of nuclear and renewable sources.

As for nuclear energy, severe accidents at the Three Mile Island NPP (USA), Chornobyl NPP (USSR) and Fukushima NPP (Japan) significantly slowed down its development. Radiophobia complicates unbiased assessment of nuclear energy role in solving energy and environmental problems and actual level of its potential hazard. Neither the accident in the United States, nor the accident in Japan led to hazardous exposure of people. There was practically no release of radionuclides into the environment at the US nuclear power plant. Such release could not be avoided at the Japanese nuclear power plant, but after 8 years, the contaminated territories were decontaminated, and the evacuated public returned to the places of pre-accident residence.

The Chornobyl tragedy really led to the deaths due to the radiation factor. According to the UN Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR report, 2007), the number of people exposed to hazardous radiation levels was 134. 48 of them died. About 6000 thyroid dysfunctions were recorded. Fortunately, the probability of fatal cases was low in this case. Other genetic and oncological effects were considered doubtful.

These data fade before the number of victims of natural disasters: earthquakes, forest fire, flooding, hurricanes, etc., whose frequency and scale are growing. Only one earthquake that led to the accident at the Fukushima NPP claimed the lives of tens of thousands of people.

Scientific and technical progress cannot be stopped. Almost all the technologies used by humankind: transport, energy, mining, chemical industry, metallurgy, etc. bring not only benefits, but also pose potential hazard. For example, road transport kills more than one million of people on Earth in a year. However, people cannot refuse such technologies. We must learn to reduce their hazard.

Nuclear energy reached a significant progress in this regard. The increased use of active and passive safety systems makes severe accidents at nuclear power plants practically impossible. Moreover, if such an accident occurs, the release of radionuclides into the environment can be limited and even prevented with the help of special measures. Today, the main criterion of NPP safety is the strive to exclude the need for evacuation of the public in case of any accident.

The leading countries including China, India, the USA, Russia, France, Canada, Great Britain, Japan, and South Korea intend to further develop nuclear energy, increase funding for scientific research in nuclear energy branch. The designs of improved NPP safety were designed and are currently implemented. Next-generation NPP designs are being developed. Among them are fast neutron reactors. They should become the basis of future nuclear energy, since only they can realize the huge energy potential of uranium and thorium.

Much attention is paid to the development and implementation of small modular reactors. The possibility of modular factory manufacturing and increased safety level make them attractive, especially for inaccessible and remote regions. High maneuverability characteristics contribute to their use in order to stabilize the operation of energy systems. Promising is the use of nuclear energy for domestic and industrial heat consumption, hydrogen production, desalination, direct reduction of iron and other technologies that require a large amount of high energy.

Participants of the International Ministerial Conference held in November last year in the United States under the auspices of the White House confirmed that nuclear energy should play a significant role in solving energy and environmental problems. The European Commission actually confirmed this conclusion.

According to the World Nuclear Association, the club of nuclear power states is constantly growing. About 10 new power units were annually commissioned in the world from 2015 to 2017. In 2018, other 14 units were added. The operation of 30 new power units with a total capacity of 33 GW (el.) will start during the next two years. In total, 450 power units with a total capacity of 392.4 GW are operating in the world. Other 53 units are under construction.

A prediction for the development of carbon-free energy was developed in the report “The cost of decarbonization” of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD, NEA No. 7299, 2019). It is worth reminding that that this organization unites 35 developed countries including the USA, France, Germany, etc. The research results presented in the report allow making the following conclusions:

  • the development of a global environmentally friendly electric power industry should be based on a cost-effective combination of nuclear and renewable energy resources;
  • the role of fossil fuel (coal, oil, gas) will decrease if methods for carbon capture and storage are not found (the appearance of the latter by 2050 is considered unlikely)
  • the key role of nuclear energy is to cover the basic part of electrical loads, while its share should make up 40-50% by 2050;
  • the share of green electricity should not exceed 30-40% due to the risk of loss of stability of energy systems;
  • the role of capacity balance will increase, primarily in water power plants and small modular reactors;
  • the role of energy storage systems remains uncertain because of their high cost and limited capabilities for long-term electric energy storage.

In this context, the position of the Ministry of Energy of Ukraine looks discordant. The head of this establishment recently presented the Concept of “Green” Energy Transfer of Ukraine by 2050 and informed that it would be submitted to the government for approval in the near future. The Ukrainian Energy Community did not participate in the development of this document. There was no preliminary public discussion of it. We have to repeat the obvious truth: privacy in the development and adoption of decisions critical for the country is unacceptable.

The approaches lying in the basis of the Concept raise not only doubts about their reliability, but also justified dissent. Its authors did not consider it necessary to indicate the characteristics of different energy generating technologies, based on which they would make their conclusions and predictions. The Concept lacks an analysis of the problems related to the use of “green” technologies. It seems that its authors are either not acquainted with the results of international investigations, or knowingly ignore them.

In essence, the Concept is a set of slogans without an analysis and evidence of the reality in their implementation. Here is the discussion about energy saving, “smart homes”, and even about the “thermal modernization of budget buildings”.

However, no word has been said about the country’s expected demand for electricity during the scheduled period, about the difficult situation of the country’s electricity network that requires urgent measures to replace and modernize the equipment of transformer substations and power lines with expired lifetime. The authors of the Concept insist on the expansion of bioenergy. Nevertheless, bioenergy is the same as greenhouse gases.

The Concept for assessing the land areas required for the construction of wind and solar power plants does not mention the desired regions for siting of the wind and solar power plants, although the characteristics of the latter strongly depend on climate conditions. It completely lacks any plans for the development of power engineering in the country, including “green” power industry.

At the same time, according to the authors of the Green Transition Concept, the thermal power industry will cease to exist, and NPP electricity production will be more than halved by 2050. Not to mention energy problems, the authors have forgotten that this leads to the dismissal of tens of thousands of highly qualified specialists. How is it planned to solve the problems of their employment and challenges in the future of single-industry cities of power engineers and coal miners?

However, the main dissent is the final conclusion of the Concept that provides for an increase in the share of green energy to 70% by 2050. It is assumed that this share will increase to 100% in the second half of the current century. In addition, no assessments of the amount of capacity balance that should replace wind and solar power plants under certain weather conditions were conducted (world experience: 0.5—0.75 kW of capacity balance is required for every kW of “green” power). Do the authors of the Concept consider this in their assessments?

The assertion that “green” energy can independently provide the vital activity of the country, especially in winter, is nothing more than a romantic nonsense. In general, the document under discussion is not a task to develop the next energy strategy of the country, but it is a plan for the destruction of the electric power industry.

The most important issue such as the financial status of the industry and the financial support for its development was considered in the Concept quite superficially.

Despite the recently implemented innovations, there have never been, nor will there ever be the electric power market in the country. What kind of market can we talk about if Energoatom has the right to sell only 15% of the electricity produced at the contract rate? What if the state-owned companies such as Energoatom and Ukrhidroenerho are obliged to pay for ultra-expensive “green” electricity while losing funds to upgrade and develop their own capacities (one should recall that these two companies jointly satisfy more than 60% of the country’s electricity demand)? What if the pricing policy cited by the National Commission for State Regulation of Energy and Public Utilities breaks down the basis of the market relations and is not aimed at supporting and strengthening the country’s electric power industry, but is aimed at enriching individuals and clans at its expense?

The price established by the National Commission for State Regulation of Energy and Public Utilities for electricity generated at thermal power plants is three times higher than the same tariff for nuclear power plants. Thermal generation is more expensive than nuclear one all over the world. However, not three times higher, but not more than by 60-80%. A tariff policy has been implemented which has led to the fact that aging thermal power units that have been constructed according to projects in the 1950-60s give considerable profit. Moreover, this when their capacity factor is only about 30%, and the specific consumption of equivalent fuel exceeds almost twice the advanced foreign indicators.

A paradoxical situation has come out. The world is looking for a replacement for coal power plants. The UN is starting efforts to implement increased taxation for the use of this technology. Ukraine artificially increases the profitability of obsolete thermal power plants, which have the worst technical, economic and environmental indicators in the world. Moreover, some owners of thermal generation and unprofitable coalmines are the same persons. They are interested in raising the price of coal and will never fight to reduce its consumption. Inflated tariffs for thermal generation allow earning extra profits.

The tariffs set for the “green” generation are many times higher than the tariffs for nuclear power plants and twice higher than the world rates. High profitability has led to volatile and chaotic growth in the total capacity of wind and solar power plants. The unified energy system of Ukraine already has difficulties in ensuring stable performance, and in insignificant capacity balance.

Nuclear energy makes up only about 20% of the total capacity of Ukrainian power plants, but it produces more than a half of electricity consumed in the country. This is a unique achievement. It is the basis of vitality in Ukraine, its present and future. The technical and economic indicators of our nuclear power industry (duration of maintenance, number of staff, especially in the headquarters, etc.) are surely still far from the best world indicators, but this is not a reason to undermine and destroy the foundation of the country’s energy security.

The country currently operates 15 power units. Long-term operation for 10-20 years was provided for 11 of them. There is the possibility of long-term operation for further 10-20 years. In any case, one should be ready for the fact that the operating power units will have to be shut down after 2030. Replacement power is required. One should immediately determine the types of future power units and their suppliers. It is necessary to reproduce the construction and installation industry, strengthen design organizations, mobilize and expand the capabilities of the national power engineering. One should remember that at least 10 years would pass since making a decision to construct new facilities until their commissioning.

However, any plans will collapse if funds are not found for their implementation. Today, it is necessary to determine the ways to accumulate funds for new construction. Electricity, including nuclear power, is an expensive pleasure. Finding sources of financing for the construction of facilities owned by the state is not a trivial task and takes time. The investor should understand the state policy in the industry requiring investment of resources.

The electric power industry, power engineering, construction and installation complexes, as well as scientific support of electric power industry in Ukraine were leading for many decades. Many spontaneous, ill-conceived, rush judgements have been made over the past three decades that have led the industry to its current status. The potential of the industry that has been formed in the last century was triggered, and the renewal of fixed assets is practically not visible1. The industry is characterized by staff turmoil and de-professionalism primarily at the managerial level.

In preparing for a fundamental restructuring, one should understand in detail the status of the industry and assess the technologies that will be the basis for its development, as well as the risks associated with changes in the structure of generating capacities. The future electric power industry should solve the problems of the country’s social and economic development, rely on a justified balance of different types of generation sources, primarily on “green” and nuclear ones, as well as solve environmental problems.

Since 1990, three power units were commissioned (their construction was started back in the 1980s) instead of three decommissioned Chornobyl NPP units. Power units are operated in thermal power industry, the newest of them is almost 40 years old.


Georgiy Kopchynskyi — over the years, he held the position of the First Deputy Chairman in the State Nuclear Regulatory Committee of Ukraine and Director of the Derzhatom of Ukraine. 

Viktor Shenderovych — honored power engineer of Ukraine, consultant to the State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate of Ukraine.  

Mykola Steinberg since May 1986 to 1987, ChNPP chief engineer, in 1987 he was appointed to the position of deputy chairman in the USSR State Committee on Supervision of Safe Conduct of Work in Atomic Energy, since 1991 he was the Chairman of the State Nuclear Regulatory Committee of Ukraine, from 2003 to 2006 he held the position of Deputy Minister of Energy of Ukraine.


According to Ukrinform. Photo: Energoatom