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Weather blacks out Ukrainian nuclear power stations
Tuesday, November 28, 2000 By Michael Steen
Power lines downed by bad weather forced two more Ukrainian nuclear power reactors to shut down automatically today, leaving millions without electricity and authorities warning of worse to come. Ukraine relies on nuclear power for 50 percent of its electricity. Only six out of 14 nuclear reactors were operational today, a day after line fault tripped the last reactor at Chernobyl, site of the world's worst civil atomic disaster, off the grid, possibly forever.
Energy, or more often a lack of it, is Ukraine's hottest political potato, but the latest mass power cuts have struck at a time when foreign lenders have praised the country for progress in reforming the sector, renowned for creaking infrastructure and murky financial goings-on.
"All shutdowns were linked to weather conditions," said Olexander Maistrenko, spokesman for the atomic energy agency Enerhoatom. He said there was no increase in radiation levels at any affected station.
Nuclear reactors cannot quickly adjust to changes in demand from the national grid and are designed to shut themselves down if there is nowhere for them to feed electricity.
The government moved to calm fears of a complete collapse of the system.
"The energy system won't collapse (due to spikes in demand), because whole regions are cut off due to the weather," said a spokeswoman for Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko.
Maistrenko said reactor one of three at the South Ukraine nuclear power plant shut down at 7:41 a.m. (0541 GMT) followed at 7:52 a.m. (0552 GMT) by number three. The station is now completely shut down after its number two reactor was put out of action on Monday by a leak from a steam generator.
Late on Monday, number six reactor at the southern Zaporizhska nuclear power station switched off because of bad weather, Maistrenko said. Of the station's six reactors, two were already out of action for repairs, he said.
Driving rain, snow, ice and heavy winds have swept across Ukraine since the weekend. In some regions, schools and businesses have closed and many roads are completely iced over.
According to the Emergencies Ministry, power was severed to half of all homes in two western regions and areas across the country were suffering blackouts. A spokeswoman said they expected further cuts as weather deteriorated.
Andriy Dmytrenko, an energy sector analyst at brokerage Dragon Capital in Kiev, said he thought traditional power stations would be able to take up the generating slack until the nuclear reactors were working again.
"Higher thermal plant production was already expected because of the (scheduled) Chernobyl shutdown and the generating companies have been stockpiling coal," he said.
The automatic shutdown of the last functioning reactor at Chernobyl on Monday, three weeks before it was due to be taken out of service for good, served as a reminder of the decrepit state of Ukraine's infrastructure.
Chernobyl's number four reactor exploded in April 1986, immediately killing at least 30 people, and sending a radioactive cloud over Europe. Thousands are thought to have died since from the exposure to radiation.
But Ukraine, saddled by gas debts of at least $1.4 billion to Russia, says it can ill afford to forgo nuclear power.
Western donors, to the chagrin of environmentalists, have pledged cash to build replacement reactors elsewhere once Chernobyl is permanently taken out of service on December 15.
-- Martin Thompson (email@example.com), November 28, 2000
Chernobyl's chief engineer, Yuri Neretin, told Reuters there was a good chance that more reactors might be forced to switch off. As he spoke, he noted a display in his office.
``You see this display? Now it's 49.02 (Hertz), but when we started speaking it was 49.11. When it reaches 49.00, the reactors at other atomic power stations may be switched off as well...The optimum frequency should be 50.00,'' he said.
``On The Brink Of Collapse''
Alexander Antropov, who is in charge of the reactor hall, added: ``A frequency of 49.02 Hertz means Ukraine's energy system is on the brink of collapse.''
He said the blame lay with severe underfunding and a lack of repairs to infrastructure.
Two of three reactors at the South Ukraine nuclear plant shut down within 10 minutes early Tuesday. Its Number Two reactor powered down on Monday after a steam generator leak.
Maistrenko said that engineers had restarted its Number Three reactor and had it working at half capacity. They were planning to restart another reactor at South Ukraine, and one at the Zaporizhka plant that was knocked out late on Monday.
Two of Zaporizhka's six reactors were already down for repairs, he said.
Driving rain, snow, ice and heavy winds have swept across Ukraine since the weekend, causing widespread power failures.
Andriy Dmytrenko, an energy sector analyst at brokerage Dragon Capital in Kiev, said he thought traditional power stations would be able to take up the generating slack.
``Higher thermal plant production was already expected because of the (scheduled) Chernobyl shutdown and the generating companies have been stockpiling coal,'' he said.
The automatic shutdown of the last functioning reactor at Chernobyl on Monday came just three weeks before it was due to be taken out of service for good on December 15.
Chernobyl's Number Four reactor exploded in April 1986, immediately killing at least 30 people, and sending a radioactive cloud over Europe. Thousands are thought to have died since then from exposure to radiation.
-- Rachel Gibson (firstname.lastname@example.org), November 28, 2000.