Current status of nuclear power installations in Ukraine – possible problems in the conflict with Russia


The fear that the Russian invasion of Ukraine could escalate into a nuclear war is real.
The largest nuclear plant in Ukraine and all of eutopus is under the control of the Russian military.
What should we expect?

Surely it is not Russia’s intention to blow up one of the nuclear reactors in operation, on the contrary … they have taken control of the energy sector to prevent possible “sabotage” actions that place the blame on Russian military actions in Ukrainian territory.
Unfortunately, militant actions include risks, and one of them was the fire that broke out in Zaporizhzhia … immediately extinguished.

When Russian troops advanced on Zaporizhzhia, Europe’s largest nuclear power plant on Friday, they didn’t only trigger a fire in a training building within the facility, but also global fears of a major nuclear catastrophe.

Though the State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate of Ukraine reported that the blaze had been extinguished, that no radiation leaks had been detected and that staff were able to continue working at the site, the attack has brought the world’s attention to the realities of a war being fought in a country so reliant on nuclear energy.

“It is a unique situation in the history of nuclear power — in fact in history — that we have a situation where a nation is operating 15 nuclear reactors and is in the middle of a full-scale war,” Shaun Burnie, nuclear specialist with Greenpeace East Asia, told DW. 

Located in southern Ukraine, the Zaporizhzhia power station has six of those reactors and produces around one-quarter of Ukraine’s electricity. Only one reactor is currently in operation, according to the nuclear regulator.  

Not built to protect against full-scale war

Building in protections in the event of a full-scale war was never part of a nation’s planning, “at least in terms of commercial nuclear power.”

The fighting at Zaporizhzhia are “a horrific first in the atomic age”
What will be the military threat to the three other operating nuclear plants in the Ukraine…nobody know !

Though some Cold War-era reactors in the Soviet Union were built underground to ward off military threats, the “enormous facilities” in Ukraine were all built above ground.

“A nuclear power plant is one of the most complex and sensitive industrial installations, which require a very complex set of resources in ready state at all times to keep them safe. This cannot be guaranteed in a war.

Disabled cooling systems could spark radiation leaks

Operating reactors are especially vulnerable in the event of a electricity grid shutdown during wartime. If a plant’s power supply was incapacitated due to heavy bombardment in the region, this could disable reactor cooling — and the cooling of spent fuel storage that is contained within relatively light walls.

In a worst-case scenario, this could lead to a Fukushima-like meltdown and “massive releases of radioactivity”.

Armed conflict in the region of Zaporizhzhia “raises the specter of major risks”.

The site is already vulnerable, the authors say, as some aging reactors were built and designed half a century ago in the 1970s. Roger Spautz, nuclear campaigner at Greenpeace France and Luxembourg says the original 40-year lifespan of these reactors has already been expanded — as is also the case in France.

“The biggest risk is that spent fuels are hit by a missile or can’t be cooled due to the disabled energy system,” Spautz said. “You need electricity running 24 hours a day,” he said, noting that diesel backup generators may not be able to run for several weeks, which may be necessary in wartime.    

Electricity grid

  • The electricity grid in Ukraine is currently operating in an “island mode”, which means that it is not connected to the grid of any neighbouring countries. A test of this mode was already underway at the beginning of February 2022.

Nuclear power plants

  • In Ukraine 15 pressurised water reactors of Russian VVER design are operated by the State Enterprise National Nuclear Energy Generating Company “Energoatom” at four plants.These plants operate under nuclear safety regulations implemented by the State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate of Ukraine (SNRIU).
    • Khmelnytskyi nuclear power plant has two existing reactors and two reactors under construction.
    • Rivne nuclear power plant has four reactors.
    • South Ukraine nuclear power plant has three reactors.
    • Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant has six reactors. Information received from the State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate of Ukraine is that: 
      • Unit 1 is in outage.
      • Unit 2 was reconnected to the grid on 4 March and on 6 March was producing 980 MWe.
      • Unit 3 were disconnected from the grid on 4 March and was in cold shutdown mode on 6 March.
      • Unit 4 remains connected to the grid and on 6 March was producing 980 MWe.
      • Unit 5 is being cooled down.
      • Unit 6 was in cold shutdown mode on 6 March.
  • According to available information, the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant was shelled on the night of 4 March but the resulting fire has since been extinguished and had no impact on essential equipment. The plant management is now under orders from the commander of the Russian forces that took control of the site. The NEA is closely monitoring the situation.

Chernobyl exclusion zone

The Chernobyl nuclear power plant consisted of 4 operating units and 2 under construction at the time of the accident in April 1986 in Unit 4. It is also the site for an Interim Spent Fuel Facility and a Central Spent Fuel Facility.

  • Unit 1 is being  decommissioned; Unit 2 was closed in March 1999; Unit 3 was closed in December 2000; Unit 4, the site of the accident, was initially protected by a Sarcophagus. A New Safe Confinement was built to enclose the existing sarcophagus and moved into position in 2016; Units 5 and 6 were under construction at the time of accident, but were never finished.
  • Construction was completed of an Interim Spent Fuel Storage Facility in 2017. The facility stores and processes spent fuel assemblies from Units 1, 2, and 3.
  • The Central Spent Fuel Storage Facility (CSFSF),  is a dry storage site for used nuclear fuel assemblies from the reactors at KhmelnytskyiRivne and South Ukraine.
  • On 25 February, following reports of higher radiation measurements at the Chernobyl site, Ukraine’s regulatory authority stated that they may have been caused by heavy military vehicles stirring up soil still contaminated from the 1986 accident. The readings reported by the regulator – of up to 9,46 microSieverts per hour – are low and remain within the operational range measured in the Exclusion Zone since it was established, and were therefore judged by the IAEA to not pose any danger to the public.
  • As of 27 February, no increase in ambient dose rate has been detected in European countries, via the European Radiological Data Exchange Platform (EURDEP).

National Science Center, Kharkov Institute of Physics and Technology

The Kharkov Institute of Physics and Technology is the site of an experimental nuclear reactor used for research and to produce isotopes for medical and industrial use.

  • Information received from the State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate of Ukraine is that the facility was damaged by shelling on 6 March but did not cause any increase in radiation levels at the site. Initial reports were that a substation was destroyed; cables for the air conditioner cooling systems of the linear accelerator cluster gallery were damaged, and that heating of the entire complex was damaged.

State Interregional Specialised Plants for Radioactive Waste Management (SISP) of UkrDO Radon – Kyiv Branch

The Kyiv Branch of SISP is used to store disused radioactive sources that had been applied in medical treatments, industrial uses, and scientific research. 

  • On 26 February, news organisations reported that this facility was struck by a bomb or missile; however it is now confirmed that the facility has not been damaged and operation of the its automatic monitoring system has been restored. There are no reports of radiological releases.

Ukraine – Electricity sector

Total generation (in 2019): 154 TWh

Generation mix: nuclear 83.0 TWh (54%); coal 45.4 TWh (29%); hydro 7.9 TWh (5%); natural gas 11.9 TWh (8%); solar 2.9 TWh (2%); wind 2.0 TWh (1%); biofuels & waste 0.4 TWh.

Import/export balance: 4.0 TWh net export.

Total consumption: 117 TWh

Per capita consumption: c. 2600 kWh in 2019.

Source: International Energy Agency and The World Bank. Data for year 2019.

Total capacity in 2019 was about 51 GWe, including 22 GWe coal-fired, 13.8 GWe nuclear, 6.3 GWe hydro, 5 GWe gas, 1.9 GWe hydro and 0.8 GWe wind. Much of the coal-fired plant is old and with unconstrained emissions, and nearly half of it is due to close down. A new 750 kV link from Rovno to Kiev was commissioned in December 2015, and allowed the Rovno and Khmelnitski plants to operate at full power (4840 MWe gross) for the first time.

Energy policy

A large share of primary energy supply in Ukraine comes from the country’s uranium and substantial coal resources. The remainder is oil and gas, mostly imported from Russia, but increasingly from the European Union (EU). In 1991, due to the breakdown of the Soviet Union, the country’s economy collapsed and its electricity generation declined dramatically from 296 TWh in 1990 to 170 TWh in 2000, all the decrease being from coal and gas plants.

In December 2005 Ukraine and the EU signed an energy cooperation agreement which links the country more strongly to western Europe in respect to both nuclear energy and electricity supply. Ukraine has investigated developing its significant shale gas deposits, but domestic production remains modest.

In mid-2012 the Ukraine energy strategy to 2030 was updated, and 5000-7000 MWe of new nuclear capacity was proposed by 2030, costing some $25 billion. A major increase in electricity demand to 307 TWh per year by 2020 and 420 TWh by 2030 was envisaged, and government policy was to continue supplying half of this from nuclear power. This would have required 29.5 GWe of nuclear capacity in 2030, up from 13.8 GWe (13.1 GWe net) through to 2021. 

The new government formed in 2014 confirmed these targets, and said that Ukraine aimed to integrate with the European power grid and gas network to make the country part of the European energy market by 2017, but this is technically and politically complicated and has not yet proceeded. A further update of energy strategy in August 2017 put the nuclear share of electricity at about 50% to 2035, with hydro 13% and other renewables 25%.

In February 2021 the government confirmed the need for three more nuclear power reactors, notably completing Khmelnitsky 3&4 and building Rovno 5 to replace the two older units there, as well as implementing the ‘energy bridge’ project to Poland and Hungary. 

Ukraine-EU ‘energy bridge’ (Energomost)

In March 2015 an agreement was signed by Ukraine’s Ukrenergo distribution company and Polenergia, a Polish counterpart, to export electricity as part of the Ukraine-European Union ‘energy bridge’, and related to the Baltic Energy Market Interconnection Plan. This would enable greater use of Ukraine’s nuclear capacity and is to generate funds to pay for increasing that capacity at Khmelnitski by completing units 3&4. The plan is for a 750 kV, 2000 MW transmission connection from Khmelnistki 2 to Rzeszow in Poland, taking in also Ukraine’s Burshtyn coal-fired plant in the far west of the country, with Khmelnistki 2 then being disconnected from the Ukraine grid and synchronized with the EU grid, as Burshtyn already is*. Albertirsa in Hungary is also to be linked. In June 2015 the government approved the project, but it has not yet proceeded.

* The 2300 MWe Burshtyn power station was disconnected from the national grid in 2002 to form the Burshtyn Energy Island, synchronized with the EU grid – ENTSO-E – and with a 400 kV connection to Hungary, Slovakia and Romania and a HVDC link proposed. Replacement of one-third of its old capacity with a new supercritical unit is proposed. However, Burshtyn partly relies on coal from eastern Ukraine mines now controlled by pro-Russian rebels. In 2017, 550 MWe effective capacity was reported.

The project consortium comprises Polenergia, EdF Trading and Westinghouse, which had already assisted in its feasibility study. The estimated project cost is $2.6 billion.

In August 2016 Energoatom signed an agreement with Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power (KHNP), one objective of which is to cooperate in the Ukraine-EU energy bridge project, as well as completing Khmelnitski 3&4. In September 2020 KHNP was proposing to build an APR1400 reactor at Rovno.

Nuclear power industry

Reactors operating in Ukraine

NameModelReactor TypeReference Unit Power (MWe)Grid Connection
Khmelnitski 1VVER V-320PWR9501987-12
Khmelnitski 2VVER V-320PWR9502004-08
Rivne 1VVER V-213PWR3811980-12
Rivne 2VVER V-213PWR3761981-12
Rivne 3VVER V-320PWR9501986-12
Rivne 4VVER V-320PWR9502004-10
South Ukraine 1VVER V-302PWR9501982-12
South Ukraine 2VVER V-338PWR9501985-01
South Ukraine 3VVER V-320PWR9501989-09
Zaporizhzhia 1VVER V-320PWR9501984-12
Zaporizhzhia 2VVER V-320PWR9501985-07
Zaporizhzhia 3VVER V-320PWR9501986-12
Zaporizhzhia 4VVER V-320PWR9501987-12
Zaporizhzhia 5VVER V-320PWR9501989-08
Zaporizhzhia 6VVER V-320PWR9501995-10

Ukraine’s nuclear power plants are operated by NNEGC Energoatom, the country’s nuclear power utility. All reactors are Russian VVER types, two being upgraded 440 MWe V-312 models and the rest the larger 1000 MWe units – two early models and the rest V-320s.

Nuclear industry development

Nuclear energy development started in 1970 with construction of the Chernobyl power plant, the first unit being commissioned in 1977. Unit 4 came online in 1983 and was destroyed in 1986.

Though the Ukrainian nuclear industry was closely involved with Russia for many years, it remained relatively stable during the changes that occurred when the country became independent of the former Soviet Union. In fact, during that period and since, there have been continuing improvements in the operational safety and output levels of Ukraine’s nuclear reactors.

Load factors increased steadily since the first reactor was commissioned in 1977 and reached 81.4% in 2004. A decrease of the country’s load factor after 2005 is related to restrictions imposed by the national electricity grid. In 2019 it was 75%.

At the end of 1995 Zaporozhe 6 was connected to the grid making Zaporozhea the largest nuclear power station in Europe, with a net capacity of 5700 MWe. (The second largest station operating is Gravelines, near Dunkerque in France, with a net capacity of 5460 MWe.)

In August and October 2004 Khmelnitski 2 and Rovno 4 respectively were connected to the grid, bringing their long and interrupted construction to an end and adding 1900 MWe to replace that lost by closure of Chernobyl 1&3 in 1996 and 2000 respectively. They were completed by Energoatom using a consortium of Framatome ANP and Atomstroyexport. See fuller account of K2-R4 in Appendix below.

Earlier in 1990 construction of three reactors (units 2-4) at Khmelnitski had been halted, though the site infrastructure for all four units was largely completed. Unit 3 was (and is) 75% completed; unit 4, 28% completed. These have been maintained to some extent since. See section on Building further nuclear power capacity below.

Other, single VVER-1000 reactors were under construction at Chyhyryn, Odessa, Kharkiv and in Crimea at Shcholkine, but work on all ceased in 1989-90.

In June 2014 the energy ministry said that a new concept for the development of nuclear power would include the technical and financial aspects of the construction of new power units, as well as advancing plans for a fuel fabrication plant and a waste repository. In July the cabinet reviewed the situation, affirmed the priority of nuclear power, and said that a western-design reactor might be built at South Ukraine, which had access from the sea for large equipment delivery.

In August 2018, the Russian government and representatives of Rosatom met to discuss building a nuclear power plant for desalination of seawater in Crimea.

Lifetime extension and upgrades

Original design lifetime of the Russian reactors was 30 years. Energoatom initially planned to extend the lifetimes of Rovno 1&2 and South Ukraine 1 by 15 years and final checking of the pressure vessels (for embrittlement) and the internals of all three units was in 2008-9. In mid-2012 Energoatom announced that the 11 oldest 1000 MWe reactors were to have 20-year life extensions by 2030.

A 10-year extension of the operating licences for Rovno1&2 was granted by the State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate of Ukraine (SNRI or SNRC) in December 2010. A further ten-year extension to 2030 was granted for unit 1 in December 2020. Energoatom said that more than $300 million had been invested in upgrading the two units since 2004, in collaboration with the IAEA. In 2006 Rovno was the first Russian-designed plant to host an IAEA OSART mission to review safety. Then in 2016 it hosted the first IAEA cross-regional joint-centre peer review, incorporating post-Fukushima aspects. In July 2018, Rovno 3 was granted a 20-year extension by the SNRC.

In February 2013 the SNRI said that South Ukraine 1 could have an operating lifetime extension after a major upgrade during 2013, and in October it approved plans for a ten-year extension to 2023. In May 2015 South Ukraine 2 was shut for major upgrading over seven months costing $114 million to enable a ten-year operating lifetime extension, which was confirmed by the SNRI in December. In January 2016 the government approved a $38 million project over three years to increase the cooling water supply to the South Ukraine plant so as to achieve up to a 2.5 TWh increase in annual output. In May 2019 unit 3 was shut down for upgrading over six months to enable a 10-year operating lifetime extension to 2030, confirmed by the SNRI in December. 

Zaporozhe (Image: Energoatom)

In May 2015 Energoatom applied for a 15-year licence extension for Zaporozhe 1, and in September 2016 the licence was extended to December 2025 after an extended outage for upgrading. With a similar upgrade underway, in August 2016 Zaporozhe 2 was cleared for operation to 2026, and the licence was extended in October. Zaporozhe 3 shut down in February 2017 for a similar upgrade. Unit 4 was closed in March 2018 for upgrade work, and the SNRI granted a ten-year operating licence extension to 2028 in October. SNRI granted a 10-year licence extension to 2030 for unit 5, after a major upgrade in 2020.

In July 2019 a 10-year extension to the operating licence of Khmelnitski 1 was granted by the SNRI so that it can operate to December 2028. A series of upgrades to allow for the lifetime extension were undertaken over 2018-19.

The lifetime extension programme was challenged under the UN Convention on Environmental Impact Assessment in a Transboundary Context – informally known as the Espoo Convention – which has been ratified by 44 countries and the EU. The convention comes under the Economic Commission for Europe and the challenge was on the basis of inadequate environmental assessment.

Earlier in March 2013 the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) announced a €300 million loan for comprehensive reactor safety upgrading, matching €300 million from Euratom. The €1.4 billion project includes up to 87 safety measures addressing design safety issues comprising the replacement of equipment in safety-relevant systems, improvements of instrumentation and control for safety-relevant systems and the introduction of organisational improvements for accident management. The programme began in 2011 and was to be completed by the end of 2017, but was delayed by three years to 2020 due to delays in the loans following the 2014 change in government.

Energoatom has been planning to raise its electricity tariff in order to finance reorganisation of the nuclear fuel cycle complex and to implement safety modernizations at all plants, as well as to fund operating lifetime extensions and construction of new plants.

In October 2015 Energoatom signed agreements with Tractebel Engineering from Belgium for safety upgrades and capacity uprates of reactors. Tractebel has offered technical and engineering assistance with completing Khmelnitski 3&4. In March 2016 Energoatom announced an agreement between Turboatom and Westinghouse to uprate the capacity of 13 VVER-1000 turbine generator sets by up to 10%.

In November 2015 Energoatom signed an agreement with Areva “for safety upgrades of existing and future nuclear power plants in Ukraine, lifetime extension and performance optimization.” It said that its “very strong modernization and reconstruction programme… is being funded by the European Community, Euratom and the EBRD” as part of a new phase in the development of EU-Ukraine contractual relations, aiming at political association and economic integration. A 2012 agreement for Rosatom to complete two Russian reactors had been revoked in September 2015.

In October 2016 Energoatom signed an agreement with GE Power Sp. Zo. – formerly Alstom’s Polish subsidiary – to upgrade nuclear power plant turbine hall equipment and to expand cooperation in the long-term service of such equipment.

In September 2017, Energoatom signed a contract with Westinghouse to supply monitoring instrumentation systems to the Zaporozhe plant as part of the ongoing Complex (Consolidated) Safety Upgrade Program of Power Units of Nuclear Power Plants.

In October 2018 Energoatom signed a strategic partnership agreement with Kharkov-based Electrotyazhmash for the replacement of old 1000 MWe turbogenerators.

In August 2019, Energoatom embarked on a modernisation programme for all 15 operable reactors to be completed over 2020-2024. The programme involves the replacement of turbine condensors, as well as turbine upgrade work.

Building further nuclear power capacity

Interruptions in natural gas supply from Russia in January 2006 sharply focused attention on the need for greater energy security and the role of nuclear power in achieving this. A nuclear power strategy involving building and commissioning 11 new reactors with total capacity of 16.5 GWe (and 9 replacement units totalling 10.5 GWe) to more than double nuclear capacity by 2030 was approved by the government in 2006 to enhance Ukraine’s energy independence. No significant progress was made on this over the next 15 years.

Ukraine’s 2006 strategy envisaged completing Khmelnitski 3&4,which were respectively 75% and 28% complete when work stopped in 1990.

Initially it was expected that an international tender would open up the choice of technology and in March 2008 Areva, Westinghouse and South Korean suppliers were invited to bid on completing or replacing them, along with Atomstroyexport and Skoda – all involving pressurized water (PWR) types. In the event only Atomstroyexport and Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power submitted bids, with the former being chosen to complete the partially-built units. KHNP renewed its interest in the project in 2016 and proposed building a new unit at Rovno in 2020 (see below).

The government announced in September 2008 that construction of Khmelnitski 3&4 would resume in 2010 for completion in 2016 and 2017, these completion dates being reaffirmed in the mid-2011 energy policy update. An intergovernmental agreement with Russia on completing the two units was signed in June 2010, and in February 2011 a framework contract was signed for Atomstroyexport to complete them as AES-92 plants with V-392B reactors similar to those already on the site. Under the intergovernmental agreement, some 85% of the estimated UAH 40 billion (€3.7 billion) project would be financed through a Russian loan, with 15% funding coming from Ukraine. The loan would be repaid within five years after the reactors went into service. In July 2012 the government confirmed the feasibility, costings and timing of the project – then $4.9 billion total. The loan agreement was expected to be finalized by the end of 2012. At the end of 2013 the energy minister said that construction might resume in 2015.

After the annexation of Crimea by Russia in March 2014, the cabinet in July reviewed the political situation with Russia, affirmed the priority of nuclear power, and said that a Western-design reactor might be built at South Ukraine, which had access from the sea for large equipment delivery.

In December 2014 the prime minister reaffirmed the priority of completing the Khmelnitski 3&4 units by 2018 to meet anticipated demand, although Energoatom said that the government was in the process of revoking the intergovernmental agreement with Russia and amending the corresponding domestic legislation for Khmelnitski 3&4 construction by Atomstroyexport (now NIAEP-ASE). The energy ministry was reported to want Skoda JS to take over the contract from Atomstroyexport. However the foreign ministry initially opposed this due to Skoda JS being owned by Russia’s OMZ, and Energoatom appealed to the president to resolve the matter. The cost for completing the two units had been put at €3.7 billion including the first fuel load at €296 million. A Polish investor offered finance of €1.48 billion in return for electricity supply to Poland.

In September 2015 parliament voted to repeal the 2012 law on construction of the two units on the basis of non-performance by Atomstroyexport. The government wanted Skoda JS to take over the project, and Skoda was keen to do so. Energoatom has signed an agreement with Barclays bank to finance completion of the Khmelnitski 3&4 units, and stresses that Skoda JS “operates by European laws in spite of the fact that the Russian company is its shareholder.”

Energoatom has dismissed Chinese expressions of interest. In August 2016 Energoatom signed an agreement with Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power (KHNP), one objective of which is to cooperate on the completion of Khmelnitski 3&4. An associated objective is to cooperate on the Ukraine-EU ‘energy bridge’ project, exporting power from Khmelnitski 2 to Poland. In July 2017 Energoatom said that Skoda JS had modified the design and would supply both engineering services as well as many of the components for the two units, with overall 70% Ukrainian content.

In September 2020 KHNP said that it was in discussions with Energoatom regarding its participation in a new-build project at the country’s Rovno nuclear power station site using its APR1400 reactor design.

In September 2021 Energoatom and Westinghouse signed an agreement to build four AP1000 reactors at established sites in the country. But before that, a pilot project will be the joint completion of Khmelnitsky 4, which will now have some AP1000 components sourced from those in storage from the aborted VC Summer 2&3 project in the USA.

The agreement covering the five reactors is valued at about $30 billion. Financing will be from US Eximbank. In November 2021 a contract was signed for two AP1000 units at Khmelnitski, costing $5 billion each and with 60% Ukraine content. Energoatom said it expected to complete the unit 3 VVER before 2025, and to build further AP1000 units at Zaporozhe, Rovno and South Ukraine. Beyond that it planned four at Chyhyryn in the Cherkasy region and four at a new site in western Ukraine. The goal is 24 GWe of nuclear capacity by 2040.

The two oldest units in Ukraine, Rovno 1&2, were to be replaced as part of the 2006 nuclear power strategy. In 2018, however, Energoatom signed an agreement with Holtec International to replace them by 2030 with six SMR-160 units. It is intended that this will be a pilot project and that a manufacturing hub for these reactors will result. In June 2019 Holtec, Energoatom and the State Scientific and Technology Centre (SSTC) set up the Ukrainian Module Consortium to progress plans for SMR-160 units.

A 500 kV, 477 km high-voltage transmission line connecting the Rostov nuclear power plant in Russia to Crimea was completed in 2018.

Ukraine power reactors under construction

Reactor NameModelGross CapacityConstruction Start
Khmelnitski 3VVER V-392B10891986-03-01
Khmelnitski 4VVER V-392B10891987-02-01

In the World Nuclear Asssociation reactor table, K3&4 are listed as “under construction”, but construction is currently suspended. A further two units are listed as “proposed”.

Chigirin/Chyhyryn/Chehyrn on the Tyasmyn River in the Cherkasy oblast in the centre of the country is proposed as one site for a new nuclear plant. A VVER-1000 unit was under construction there until about 1989, the first of four planned.

Small modular reactors

In June 2019 the Ukrainian Module Consortium was set up between US company Holtec, Energoatom, and the State Scientific and Technical Center for Nuclear and Radiation Safety (SSTC NRS). It announced that it was considering building six SMR-160s at the country’s Rivne nuclear power station site from 2030. Energoatom was considering deploying SMR-160 units more widely to complement intermittent renewables. The ARC-100 SMR design, an integral fast neutron reactor developed with GE Hitachi, has also been offered to Energoatom.

In February 2020 the SSTC NRS signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with NuScale Power regarding collaboration on the regulatory and design gaps between the US and Ukrainian processes for the licensing, construction, and operation of a NuScale power plant in Ukraine. In September 2021 Energoatom signed an MoU with NuScale to explore the deployment of NuScale units in Ukraine. It said: “We are considering the possibility of building SMRs in Ukraine to replace carbon-emitting thermal power plants and to increase the load-following capacities of the Ukrainian energy system.”

Nuclear supply chain

Atomenergomash’s Energomashspetsstal (EMSS), a castings and forgings manufacturer, is at Kramatorsk in the Donetsk region. Major upgrading of EMSS was completed in 2012, enabling it to make the forged components of large reactor pressure vessels such as those for VVER-TOI units. As well as power engineering, it has metallurgy, mechanical engineering and shipbuilding divisions, and earlier (to 1989) provided steam generators and reactor pressure vessels for Atommash at Volgodonsk in Russia. It is part of Rosatom’s AEM-Technology and provides forgings to be finished at AEM’s Petrozavodskmash and Atommash plants in Russia.

JSC Turboatom at Kharkov in the northeast, established in 1934 and now 75.2% government-owned (but with this share being reduced), is among the leading world turbine-building companies. It specializes in steam turbines for thermal and nuclear power plants, and has the capacity to produce 8000 MWe of such per year, with individual units up to 1100 MWe. It has supplied 110 turbines totalling 50 GWe for 24 nuclear power plants, and in 2015 supplied its 20th 1000 MWe unit. Ukrainian power plants employ 47 Turboatom-made turbines and 43 Russian ones, for which Turboatom is now making spare parts. It also completed a contract to modernize the turbines at Hungary’s Paks nuclear power plant. In March 2016 it signed an agreement with Westinghouse to uprate the capacity of VVER-1000 turbine generator sets by up to 10%.

Turboatom is also building Holtec’s Hi-Storm 190 casks for Ukraine’s Central Spent Fuel Storage Facility (CSFSF) for VVER fuel, celebrated as “the dawn of a new chapter in US-Ukraine cooperation.” As noted above, Westinghouse is working with Turboatom to uprate the capacity of 13 VVER-1000 turbine generator sets by up to 10%. The company is developing export markets in Europe, to replace Russia.

Earlier in February 2010 Energoatom signed a cooperation agreement with China Guangdong Nuclear Power Co (CGN) relating to nuclear power plant design, construction, operation and maintenance.

Uranium resources and mining

Ukraine has modest recoverable resources of uranium – 186,000 tU according to the 2020 edition of the IAEA ‘Red Book’, 73,000 tU of these recoverable at under $80/kgU. Reasonably assured resources are 122,000 tU, nearly all in metasomatite deposits in the Kirovograd block in the Dniprovski Basin of the Ukrainian Shield and requiring underground mining in the basement rock. Ore grade is 0.1-0.2%U. A few shallower sandstone deposits at lower grade are amenable to ISL and have potential byproduct elements. Reasonably assured resources for ISL are 3700 tU at <$80/kg.

Uranium mining began in 1946 underground at Pervomayskoye and Zheltorechenskoye, and in 1951 the government set up the Vostochny Gorno-Obogatitel’niy Kombinat (VostGOK), Eastern Mining and Processing Enterprise or Skhidniy Gorno-Zdobychuval’nyi Kombinat (SkhidGZK in Ukrainian, or Skhidniy HZK) at Zheltiye Vody or Zhovti Vody (Ukr) in the Dnepropetrovsk oblast, close to the border of Kirovograd, to process the ore. In 1959 a second plant was built here. A total of about 130,000 tU had been produced to the end of 2016. 

Uranium mine production, tonnes U

Zheltye Vody mill8508909609229261200808707790800400

Novokonstantinovskoye is not separately reported.

VostGOK had been producing up to 830 tonnes of uranium per year – around 30% of the country’s requirements. The central mill is at Zheltye Vody, close to the border of Kirovograd. Mine production is from several sources – notably Ingulskaya and Smolinskaya mines in the Kirovograd region, with about 66,000 tU and 5000 tU resources respectively. At Ingulskaya block leaching in the Centralniy and Michurinskoye deposits is undertaken, and at Smolinskaya, mining the Vatutinskoye deposit, beneficiated ore from radiometric sorting at site is railed to the central mill. VostGOK had plans to start mining the Severinskiy deposit in 2020, but this did not proceed. The mineralization occurs in metasomatite deposits up to 1300 metres deep, with typical grade of 0.1%U.

The Novokonstantinovskoye uranium project in the Kirovograd region (40 km west of Kirovograd) is claimed to be the largest uranium deposit in Europe, and about 90,000 tU resources at 0.14% are quoted in the 2018 Red Book. It is also a metasomatite deposit. Ceremonial first production was in August 2008, but development then languished. Three underground levels have been opened up at 680 to 1090 metres depth. Russia’s Rosatom had said it was keen to invest in developing the project, but agreement on equity was not reached. The government was seeking partners to help fund the $820 million development cost, but after becoming impatient with disputes, it legislated to put the project under VostGOK from December 2009.*

* This edict was cancelled in February 2010, and the regional Public Utility Company Nedra Kirovogradshchiny was then to take over responsibility. However, this was reversed in September, and the project reverted to VostGOK. Earlier, the project was being developed independently of VostGOK by the Novokonstantinov uranium development company, to produce up to 1500 t/yr by 2013, and 2500 t/yr eventually.

In October 2010 VostGOK announced that production would commence in 2011, ramping up towards 1050 tU/yr. Russian overtures were again rejected. First production was in June 2011, with 99 tU projected to end of year. Production in 2012 was expected to be 180-190 tU, and then 424 tU in 2013, 760 tU in 2014, and 1270 tU in 2015, which proved to be unrealistic. VostGOK is aiming to invest over UAH 6 billion ($736 million) to develop the Novokonstantinovskoye mine, but financing this depends on securing long-term sales contracts with NAEC Energoatom. In May 2013 financing seemed to be stalled though some stope development was proceeding. In March 2019 the energy ministry said it aimed to increase production at the mine from 285 tU in 2018 to 594 tU in 2021.

Heap leaching occurs at Smolinskaya, and also Novokonstantinovskoye to treat one-third of its ore. Higher-grade ore is railed 100 km east from the Ingulskiy mine, 150 km east from Smolinskaya and 130 km east from Novokonstantinovskoye to the central mill and hydrometallurgical plant at Zheltye Vody in Dnipropetrovsk oblast, southeast of Kiev. After crushing and radiometric sorting there, the ore is acid leached in autoclaves at high temperature and pressure.

In 2013 VostGOK finished re-treatment of about 3 million tonnes of tailings at Smolinskaya mine, and a mobile ore-sorting complex was commissioned at Ingulskaya mine in 2011 to enable the same there, both for uranium recovery and to enable proper rehabilitation of the sites.

In November 2015 China Nuclear Energy Industry Corporation (CNEIC) expressed some interest in development of Novokonstantinovskoye. VostGOK commented on the possibility of uranium exports to China.

In situ leach (ISL) mining of uranium began in 1961 and in Devladovske and Bratske deposits it occurred from 1966 to 1983 using acid to recover 3925 tU but mining was discontinued for environmental reasons. In June 2009 VostGOK announced that it planned to develop the Safonovskiy/Safonovka deposit using in situ leaching (ISL) to produce 100-150 tU/yr in a sandstone deposit 80 m deep. From about 2020 a private company, Nuclear Energy Systems of Ukraine LLC (NES), has mined palaeochannels 30-100 metres deep in the Safonovka deposit by acid ISL, expecting to recover 2250 tU.

There are legacy issues with former uranium mining and processing, particularly at the Pridniprovsky Chemical Plant (PHZ) at Dniprodzerzhinsk, not far from the Dnipro River. Nine tailings dams containing 42 million tonnes of mine tailings and 4 PBq of activity and derelict production facilities from operations over 1948-91 are the subject of a large-scale remediation program. PHZ processed ores from the Michurinskoye deposit (near Kirovograd), phosphate ores of the Melovoye deposit (near Shevchenko, now Aktau, Kazakhstan) and raw concentrate from GDR, Hungary and Bulgaria.

In 2016 Kazatomprom agreed with Ukraine’s minister for coal and energy to establish a uranium mining joint venture, presumably for ISL mining.

Ukraine also has zirconium resources, and supplies zirconium to Russia.

Fuel cycle

Ukrainian uranium concentrate and zirconium alloy are sent to Russia for fuel fabrication. The nuclear fuel produced from these Ukrainian components by TVEL in Russia is then sent to Ukrainian nuclear power plants. Fuel for Ukrainian nuclear plants is also supplied by Westinghouse under Ukraine’s Nuclar Fuel Diversification Programme (see below).

The country depends primarily on Russia to provide other nuclear fuel cycle services also, notably enrichment. In June 2007 Ukraine agreed to investigate joining the new International Uranium Enrichment Centre (IUEC) at Angarsk, in Siberia, and to explore other areas of cooperation in the nuclear fuel cycle and building power reactors in other countries. Late in 2008 it signed an agreement for Ukraine’s State Concern Nuclear Fuel to take a 10% stake in the IUEC based at Angarsk, and in October 2010 this came into effect. Ukraine’s State Concern Nuclear Fuel apparently sells natural uranium to IUEC, which enriches it at Russian plants. Then IUEC sells the enriched uranium to the Fuel Company TVEL, which fabricates fuel assemblies and supplies them to NAEC Energoatom. The first commercial supply from IUEC was in November 2012. The contracted volume is 60,000 SWU/yr, proportional to the Ukrainian shareholding. Ukraine requires about 2 million SWU/yr overall.

In July 2015 State Concern Nuclear Fuel signed an agreement with Converdyn in USA to investigate building a conversion plant to supply Ukraine’s needs.

In April 2015 Energoatom signed an agreement with Areva (now Orano) for the supply of enriched uranium, as “a real step towards diversifying the supply of nuclear materials to Ukrainian nuclear power plants.” Deliveries would begin in 2015 or when Ukraine’s new fuel fabrication plant being built by TVEL at Smolino was operational. This is now aborted, and it is uncertain where fuel fabrication from Areva sources might occur.

In January 2022 the government approved a plan that aims to increase domestic production of uranium concentrate to 1265 tU in 2026, up from the 995 tU targeted in 2022.

Fabricated fuel imports

In order to diversify nuclear fuel supplies, Energoatom started implementation of the Ukraine Nuclear Fuel Qualification Project (UNFQP) for VVER-1000 fuel. The Project assumed the use of Western-manufactured fuel in the VVER-1000 following the selection of Westinghouse as a vendor on a tender basis. In 2005, South Ukraine’s third unit was the country’s first to use the six lead test assemblies supplied by Westinghouse, which were placed into the reactor core together with Russian fuel for a period of pilot operation. A reload batch of 42 fuel assemblies was provided by Westinghouse in mid-2009 for a three-year period of commercial operation at the unit with regular monitoring and reporting. In addition to the initial supply of fuel from Westinghouse, other aims of the project included the transfer of technology for the design of nuclear fuel.

Under a 2008 contract, Westinghouse supplied a total of 630 fuel assemblies for South Ukraine 2&3. However, these trials to 2011 were contentious, with Energoatom claiming manufacturing defects in the fuel and Westinghouse asserting errors in fuel loading. Each reactor has 163 fuel assemblies.

In June 2010, Energoatom signed a long-term fuel supply contract with Russia’s TVEL for all 15 reactors. Earlier, Rosatom had offered a substantial discount to Ukraine if it signed up with TVEL for 20 years. In 2010, TVEL sold Ukraine nuclear fuel for $608 million (€449 million). In 2013 all fuel came from TVEL, valued at $601 million. In 2014 Ukraine bought $588 million of fuel services from TVEL and $39 million from Westinghouse Sweden.

Following the annexation of Crimea by Russia, in April 2014 Ukraine extended its 2008 contract with Westinghouse for fuel supply through to 2020. In 2015 Energoatom ordered Westinghouse fuel for unit 5 of the Zaporozhe plant, as well as for South Ukraine. The Westinghouse fuel is fabricated at its plant at Vasteras in Sweden. Westinghouse commented: “This new agreement for Westinghouse VVER fuel design testifies to the quality of our fuel design and demonstrates that it has, in fact, operated without issue at the South Ukraine nuclear power plant, as confirmed by extensive and recent joint Energoatom and Westinghouse inspections. This contract extension …. will allow Energoatom to continue diversification of its fuel supply. We expect that … Westinghouse will grow its share of the Ukrainian nuclear fuel market.” Russian sources have since suggested that the Westinghouse VVER fuel is unlicensed and dangerous. In 2015 Energoatom bought 5% of its fuel from Westinghouse, worth $32 million, out of a total of $644 million. In 2016 Energoatom imported $549 million of fuel, with $387 million (70.5%) of this from TVEL and $162 million (29.5%) from Westinghouse – less than the expected 40%. In 2017 Energoatom bought $368.9 million worth of nuclear fuel from TVEL and $164.4 million of Westinghouse fuel from Sweden (31% by value). As of July 2021, six of Ukraine’s 15 reactors were operating using Westinghouse fuel: South Ukraine 2&3 and four units at Zaporozhye.

Earlier in January 2018 Energoatom extended its contract with Westinghouse to 2025. Energoatom stated that seven of the country’s 15 nuclear reactors will use Westinghouse fuel by 2025. In July 2018, Westinghouse announced that South Ukraine 3 was loaded with a full core of its VVER-1000 fuel – the first unit in Ukraine to operate with Westinghouse VVER-1000 fuel as the sole source. In December 2019, Zaporozhe 5 was loaded exclusively with Westinghouse fuel.

In December 2018 Energoatom confirmed that an agreement with TVEL had been signed for the continued supply of fuel for eight of the 15 Ukranian nuclear reactors between 2021 and 2025. Westinghouse will supply fuel to six.

While Ukraine is not imminently a part of the EU, the European Commission said in May 2014 that as a condition of investment, any non-EU reactor design built in the EU must have more than one source of fuel.

Ukraine fuel fabrication plans

About 2009 TVEL and Westinghouse both bid to build a fuel fabrication plant in Ukraine, and in September 2010 the Ministry of Fuels & Energy selected TVEL. The State Concern Nuclear Fuel signed an agreement with TVEL for a 50-50 joint venture to build a plant to manufacture VVER-1000 fuel assemblies. Preparatory work was undertaken for the US$ 460 million (€355 million) plant at Smolino, Kirovograd region, 300 km southeast of Kiev, to produce about 400 fuel assemblies (200 tU) per year, but with eventual capacity of 800 per year. The site is near Smolinskaya uranium mine.

One condition was that Ukraine held a controlling stake in the joint venture company that was to be established to manage the plant, despite relying on TVEL to provide 70% of the loan funds to construct it. Another condition was that TVEL transfer the technology for the manufacture of fuel assemblies under a non-exclusive licence by 2020, for reactors both in Ukraine and abroad. Russia agreed to transfer fuel fabrication technology by 2020. Ukraine’s prime minister called it “the most substantial project towards energy independence in the history of independent Ukraine.” In December 2011 the private joint-stock company Nuclear Fuel Production Plant (NFPP) was set up to run it.

Site works started in 2012 and full construction was due to start in mid-2014, with the first phase to 2015 setting up capacity for fabrication of fuel rods and assemblies (using pellets from Ulba in Kazakhstan, 34% TVEL-owned), the second phase to 2020 involving production of fuel pellets. It was expected to start supplying fuel in 2016, and that it would cater all nuclear fuel needs of Ukraine’s nuclear power plants, while surplus products could be exported under separate arrangements with TVEL, mainly to Eastern Europe. 

In July 2014 construction was delayed due to disagreement on terms and conditions of the contract, and the Ukraine deputy minister said that Westinghouse or Areva might be called upon. In August 2014 TVEL said it was ready to supply the equipment for the plant as soon as contract disagreements and financing were resolved, and Novosibirsk Chemical Concentrates Plant (NCCP) said it had manufactured the process lines and was putting them into storage. In October 2015 the energy minister said that the government planned to terminate the agreement with TVEL.

In 2016 the government was talking with Kazatomprom about joint venture fuel fabrication for Ukraine being undertaken in Kazakhstan, previous plans for a plant in Ukraine having failed.

In 2018 TVEL and China Nuclear Energy Industry Corporation (CNEIC) were reported to be considering the joint construction of a VVER fuel fabrication plant in Ukraine. TVEL has helped CNEIC and Jiangsu Nuclear Power Corporation set up VVER fuel production at Yibin for China’s first four VVER reactors.

In August 2021 a US-Ukraine cooperation agreement included mention of a nuclear fuel fabrication plant at the Skhidniy mining and processing plant in Ukraine, evidently by Westinghouse.

Earlier, in the 1990s, an attempt had been made to set up a complete suite of fuel cycle facilities other than enrichment, but this failed for political and financial reasons. The December 2006 decision to form Ukratomprom revived intentions to build a fuel fabrication plant (see Appendix).


The K2R4 saga

In the 1990s both the government and Energoatom were determined to bring two new reactors – Khmelnitski 2 and Rovno 4 (K2R4) – into operation as soon as possible. Both reactors were 80% complete when a halt was imposed in 1990.

In 1995 a Memorandum of Understanding was signed between the Governments of the G7 countries, the EC and the Ukrainian government which required closure of the operating Chernobyl reactors. Thus, Chernobyl reactors were shut down – the last in December 2000.

The Memorandum stipulated the agreement on international financial aid to Ukraine to support Chernobyl decommissioning, power sector restructuring, completion of K2R4 nuclear reactors, thermal and hydro plant rehabilitation, construction of a pumped storage plant, and to support energy efficiency projects in accordance with Ukraine’s energy sector strategy.

In 2000 the European Bank for Reconstruction & Development (EBRD) approved (by an 89% vote apart from abstentions) a US$ 215 million loan towards completion of K2R4. This EBRD funding, though a modest part of the US$ 1480 million estimated to be required, was a key factor in plans for their completion to western safety standards. Conditions on the loan included safety enhancement of all 13 Ukraine nuclear power reactors, independence for the country’s nuclear regulator, and electricity market reform.

Following approval of the EBRD loan, the European Commission (EC) approved a US$ 585 million loan to Energoatom. The EC said that approval of this Euratom funding “a few days before the permanent closure of Chernobyl gives a clear sign of the Commission’s commitment to nuclear safety … as well as to the deepening of [EU] relations with Ukraine.” It “will finance the completion, modernisation and commissioning of two third-generation nuclear units”. The EC pointed out that it and the EBRD had concluded that the project met all safety, environmental, economic and financial criteria.

Russia earlier provided US$ 225 million credit for K2R4 equipment and fuel, then in 2002 a Russian loan of US$ 44 million for completion of the units was approved. The arrangement covered goods and services from Russia. It followed signing of a US$ 144 million agreement in June, including about US$ 100 million of fuel.

However the promised loans of US$ 215 million and the Euratom’s US$ 585 million were deferred late in 2001 because the government had baulked at doubling the wholesale price of power to USD 2.5 cent/kWh as required by EBRD. Ukraine also rejected almost all approved Russian loans. The Ukrainian government then approved estimates for the completion, site works and upgrades for the K2R4 nuclear power reactors, at US$ 621 million and US$ 642 million respectively. With local finance and a bond issue, Energoatom proceeded with work on both units.

In July 2004, prior to start-up of the two units, the EBRD finally approved a scaled-down loan of US$ 42 million. This sum was matched by US$ 83 million from Euratom, approved by the EC. The project finances the post-start-up component of a safety and modernisation programme developed for K2R4.

The loan was approved on condition that revised tariffs are implemented in order to fund upgrading of all 13 operating power reactors in Ukraine to K2R4 standards, that a decommissioning fund is set up and “an internationally agreed level of nuclear liability insurance” is reached.

The programme on modernisation and safety improvement of K2R4 was established taking into account IAEA’s recommendations. It consists of 147 “pre-commissioning”, as well as “post-commissioning” and “before and after commissioning” measures. In 2003-2004, Framatome ANP, an independent expert of the EBRD, together with the local Riskaudit Company, reviewed the implementation status and sufficiency of the programme. They assessed positively the result of this programme’s implementation to date. The post-commissioning modernization measures were completed in November 2010, under the US$ 125 million budget from EBRD and Euratom.

In August 2004 the Ukrainian President said that Western governments had failed to honour their 1995 undertakings to assist his country in exchange for closing the Chernobyl plant, particularly in relation to the Khmelnitski 2 and Rovno 4 completion, grid infrastructure and a pumped storage hydro plant.

Nuclear industry structure and the Russian connection

Late in 2006 the government moved to set up a new national nuclear industry entity – Ukratomprom, as a vertically-integrated nuclear holding company reporting to Energy Ministry and cabinet. Ukratomprom was to consist of six state-owned enterprises including Energoatom, the VostGOK uranium mining company, and the Novokonstantinov uranium development company, with assets of some $10 billion, including $6.35 billion for Energoatom.

Three major projects were to be launched in 2007, including a $1875 million uranium production venture comprising refurbishment of VostGOK’s hydrometallurgical plant and construction of a uranium mill at Novokonstantinov. Then it was announced that Energoatom would not be included in Ukratomprom, and soon afterwards plans were abandoned.

Russia has made strenuous efforts to regain its influence in Ukraine, and early in 2010 various proposals for civil nuclear joint ventures were put forward. In April the Russian president suggested “full-scale cooperation of our nuclear industries,” and that the two countries establish a large holding company that would include power generation, heavy engineering and fuel cycle facilities.

As a first stage, he suggested a merger involving Ukrainian uranium mining with Russia’s Novosibirsk Chemical Concentrates Plant in Siberia, which produces VVER fuel. Also he noted that Ukraine’s Turboatom was producing large steam turbines solely for Russia. Furthermore, all Ukrainian reactors need modernization which, he said, could be most effective with close cooperation of Russian enterprises, at the same time as opening access for Ukrainian partners to the Russian market as it greatly expands nuclear capacity. In addition, Russia and Ukraine could collaborate in foreign markets on the basis of financing provided by the Russian government and leading financial institutions. Ukraine’s president agreed in principle that some of these particular suggestions might have merit.

Rosatom followed up with the suggestion that if Ukraine signed long-term (25-year) fuel supply contracts with Russia it would enjoy a discount of more than $1 billion. Furthermore, Rosatom was ready to transfer up to 50% of the shares in the Novosibirsk Chemical Concentrates Plant to Ukrainian partners and establish domestic fuel production, either “either [as] a branch of the combine where we can be shareholders together, or a new plant in the Ukrainian territory.” Rosatom reiterated its long-standing desire to take a share of Ukraine’s Novokonstantinov uranium project, and also proposed a joint venture bringing together the heavy engineering assets of Russia’s Atomenergomash and Ukraine’s Turboatom at Kharkov.

Energoatom has set up Atomproektengineering to handle new nuclear power projects, including investment, design, and construction. It has already been involved with Khmelnitski 3&4 . In October 2010 Atomenergomash announced that it and NAEC Energoatom would set up a strategic consortium to localize nuclear equipment manufacture in Ukraine, particularly in relation to Khmelnitski 3&4.

Ukraine’s plans for fuel cycle developments are to develop uranium mining and fuel fabrication, but not conversion, enrichment or reprocessing – these being done in Russia, albeit with some Ukraine equity in IUEC

In May 2008 Ukraine’s Ministry of Fuels and Energy signed an agreement with Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd (AECL) to develop CANDU technology. This could provide synergies with the existing Ukrainian VVER reactors by burning uranium recovered from the VVERs’ used fuel. However, no developments have eventuated in Ukraine.

Decommissioning & waste management

There is no intention to close the fuel cycle in Ukraine, though the possibility remains under consideration. In 2008 the National Target Environmental Program of Radioactive Waste Management was approved. Storage of used fuel for at least 50 years before disposal remains the policy. The new program meets the requirements of European legislation and recommendations of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom). Its implementation will create an integrated system of radioactive waste of all types and categories for 50 years. In 2014 Energoatom commenced a study on having used fuel of both TVEL and Westinghouse origin reprocessed by Areva at La Hague in France.

Used fuel is mostly stored on site though some VVER-440 fuel continued to be sent to Russia for reprocessing under a 1993 arrangement. At Zaporozhe a long-term dry storage facility for spent fuel has operated since 2001, but other VVER-1000 spent fuel has been sent to Russia for storage, at a cost to Ukraine of about $200 million per year. A centralised dry storage facility for spent fuel (CSFSF) was proposed for construction in the government’s 2006 energy strategy .

Preliminary investigations have shortlisted sites for a deep geological repository for high- and intermediate-level wastes including all those arising from Chernobyl decommissioning and clean-up.

A new facility for treatment solid radioactive waste is at the site of Zaporozhe nuclear power plant, commissioned in 2015. It will be fitted with a state-of-the-art incinerator of Danish design.

In 2013, a four-year Ukraine-NATO project began to clean up low-level radioactive waste at nine military facilities in the country. €25 million was budgeted. The waste will be buried in the Chernobyl exclusion zone.

CSFSF near Chernobyl for VVER fuel

In December 2005, Energoatom signed a US$ 150 million agreement with the US-based Holtec International to implement the Central Spent Fuel Storage Facility (CSFSF) project for Ukraine’s VVER reactors. Holtec’s work involves design, licensing, construction, commissioning of the facility, and the supply of transport and vertical ventilated dry storage systems for used VVER nuclear fuel, initially 2500 VVER-1000 and 1100 VVER-440 assemblies. This was projected for completion in 2008, but was held up pending legislation. Then in October 2011 parliament passed a bill on management of spent nuclear fuel, and this was approved in the upper house in February 2012. It provides for construction of the dry storage facility within the Chernobyl exclusion area, between the resettled villages Staraya Krasnitsa, Buryakovka, Chistogalovka and Stechanka in Kiev Region, southeast of Chernobyl. Ukraine requires all spent fuel to be stored in double wall multi-purpose canisters (DWC).

The new storage facility will become a part of the common spent nuclear fuel management complex of the state-owned company Chernobyl NPP, though it will not take any Chernobyl fuel. In April 2014 the government approved the 45 hectare site for the facility, to take fuel from Rovno, South Ukraine and Khmelnitski. The total storage capacity of the facility will be 16,530 used fuel assemblies, including 12,010 VVER-1000 assemblies and 4520 VVER-440 assemblies. Some of these have high-burnup fuel and are hot, with up to 38 kW heat load. It was expected to cost $460 million, including ‘start-up complex’ $160 million. Holtec quoted three years for construction from mid-2014, when the project was reactivated under a new government with a new contract. The contract was amended in January 2015 so that the civil design and construction of CSFSF will be the responsibility of NNEGC Energoatom (Ukraine).

At the same time, Holtec International (USA) is responsible for the supply of specific dry spent nuclear fuel storage and transport canisters and casks which will be used at the three nuclear power plant sites, and during the used nuclear fuel transport from them to the CSFSF, as well as at the facility itself. Holtec HI-STAR 190 transport casks will be used for transporting canisters to the site where they will be loaded into Holtec’s HI-STORM 190 ventilated vertical storage system, to provide physical protection, radiation shielding and allow passive heat removal. The double-wall canisters (DWC) were approved by the State Nuclear Inspectorate (SNRI) early in 2015. In October 2015 Holtec agreed with Turboatom in Ukraine to manufacture the HI-STORM 190 casks, initially 94 of them.

The cost of the project is equivalent to a few years of payments to Russia for storing Ukraine’s fuel from the three plants (about $200 million per year). Construction of the CSFSF commenced in August 2014, with Holtec acting as the general contractor of the project, while two Ukrainian companies, YUTEM Engineering Ltd and Ukrtransbud Inc, started to build it. In August 2015 Holtec said that site construction was 57% complete and due to be finished in July 2016. Then in October 2016 Energoatom subsidiary AtomProjectEngineering said that the active phase of construction was due to start in March 2017. In July 2017 the SNRI issued a licence for the project. In January 2022 it was reported that the CSFSF was in cold testing with first shipments expected in April.

Holtec earlier said that hostilities in the east had set back the schedule.

Vitrified high-level waste from reprocessing Ukrainian fuel will be returned from Russia and go to the CSFSF.

Chernobyl ISF-2 for RBMK fuel

Used fuel from decommissioned RBMK reactors at Chernobyl nuclear power plant will be stored in a new dry storage facility being built a few kilometres from the plant, and not far from CSFSF. In September 2007 Holtec International and the Ukrainian government signed a contract to complete the placement of Chernobyl’s used nuclear fuel in dry storage systems at the Chernobyl Interim Spent Nuclear Fuel Storage Facility (ISF-2). Removing the radioactive fuel from the three undamaged Chernobyl reactors is essential to the start of demolishing them. Holtec completed the dry storage project, begun in 1999 by the French company Framatome (subsequently Areva and then Orano), and was able to utilise much of the previous structures and components from Areva, substantially supplemented. Areva’s €80 million contract was suspended in October 2005, after donor countries rejected its proposal to correct problems with its endeavours. “The prior contractor’s technology was shown to be inadequate to meet the facility’s functional and regulatory requirements,” according to Holtec, which took over the project in 2011. Areva was required to pay €45 million to Ukraine in compensation for the botched project.

Transfer of most used fuel to the site from Chernobyl units 1-3 was completed in 2013, with the last damaged fuel removed in June 2016. Initially this is stored in ISF-1, a wet storage facility which was commissioned in 1986. The Chernobyl Dry Storage (ISF-2) project requires dividing over 21,000 fuel assemblies into 42,000 fuel bundles in a custom-engineered hot cell, and drying them – a step overlooked in the Areva era.

The bundles will be put into double-walled shielded steel canisters which are then filled with inert gas and welded shut. Each metal canister, containing 93 used fuel assemblies, is placed horizontally in a NUHOMS concrete storage module where it will be enclosed for up to 100 years. Once all the used fuel has been transferred by about 2030, ISF-1 would be decommissioned. The first Holtec canisters for the Areva-designed NUHOMS dry storage system were delivered from the USA in November 2015, and about 85 of these will be involved in stage 1. The balance of 231 were delivered over 2017-19. They will store the fuel long-term in an inert gas environment.

ISF-2 has a fixed price of $411 million and was completed in 2019, though hostilities in the east set back the schedule. In August 2017 the SNRI approved an integrated systems test of the facility, and system-wide trials commenced in May 2019. Hot testing was completed in December 2020. A full operating licence from the SNRI was issued in April 2021. There is full endorsement from the Assembly of Donors, which provides funding for Chernobyl remediation and decommissioning through the EBRD’s Nuclear Safety Account. The works were being carried out by Ukrainian companies UTEM-Engineering (principal contractor) and Ukrtransbud.

Chernobyl: other waste

Also at Chernobyl, Nukem has constructed an Industrial Complex for Solid Radwaste Management (ICSRM) which was handed over in April 2009. In this, solid low- and intermediate-level wastes accumulated from the power plant operations and the decommissioning of reactor blocks 1 to 3 is conditioned by incineration, high-force compaction, and cementation, as required and then packaged for disposal. In addition, highly radioactive and long-lived solid waste is sorted out for temporary separate storage. A low-level waste repository has also been built at the Vektor complex 17 km away.

The Liquid Radioactive Waste Treatment Plant (LRTP) at Chernobyl retrieves some 35,000 cubic metres of low- and intermediate-level liquid wastes at the site from their current tanks, processes them into a solid state and moves them to containers for long-term storage. The plant began treating waste in July 2019. LRTP is also funded through EBRD’s Nuclear Safety Account.

Reactor decommissioning: Chernobyl

Reactor NameModelReactor TypeReference Unit Power (MWe)Permanent Shutdown
Chernobyl 4RBMKLWGR9251986-04
Chernobyl 2RBMKLWGR9251991-10
Chernobyl 1RBMKLWGR7401996-11
Chernobyl 3RBMKLWGR9252000-12

This New Safe Confinement (NSC) project cost about €1.5 billion. In September 2007 a €430 million contract was signed with a French-led consortium Novarka to build this new shelter, to enclose both the destroyed Chernobyl 4 reactor and the hastily-built 1986 structure over it. It is a metal arch 110 metres high and spanning 257 m, which was built adjacent and then moved into place at the end of 2016. The arch frame is equipped with internal cranes to undertake demolition of the old structure and the remains of unit 4. It would enable the eventual removal of the fuel-containing materials in the bottom of the reactor building and accommodate their characterisation, compaction, and packing for disposal. The NSC is the largest moveable land-based structure ever built.

The International Chernobyl Shelter Fund facilitated by the EBRD was set up in 1997. In May 2005, international donors made pledges worth approximately €150 million towards the new safe confinement. The largest contribution came from the G8 and the EU. Russia contributed to the fund for the first time and other fund members, which include the USA, increased their contributions, with the Ukrainian government pledging some €15 million. The European Commission has committed €239.5 million since 1997, making it the main donor. Units 1-3 are undergoing decommissioning conventionally – the first RBMK units to do so – and work will accelerate when the new ISF-2 dry storage facility for fuel is fully commissioned.

Research & development

Ukraine has had two research reactors, including a 10 MW tank type one – VVR-M – which was commissioned in 1960 at the Institute for Nuclear Research in Kiev. This was converted to LEU fuel in 2008 under the US Global Threat Reduction Program. Plans for a $250 million replacement were announced in 2008.

In 2012 the government approved construction of KIPT Experimental Neutron Source at the Kharkov Institute of Physics and Technology, using LEU. It is basically an accelerator system, subcritical. The USA is providing technical assistance and $25 million towards it, the total contribution being $73 million. There is cooperation with Oak Ridge and Idaho National Laboratory in the USA. It is intended for research in nuclear physics as well as isotope production, particularly for nuclear medicine.

There is also a very small IR-100 training reactor (200 kW) at the Naval Engineering school in the Sevastopol National University of Nuclear Energy and Industry in Crimea. This was taken over in the Russian annexation of Crimea, and Ukraine has raised with IAEA the safeguards implication. Russia’s national radioactive waste management company, NO RAO, will receive data for the accounting and control of radioactive materials and waste from Crimea.


In 1996 the former nuclear operating entity Goskomatom set up a new corporate nuclear utility, National Nuclear Energy Generating Company (NNEGC) Energoatom. NNEGC Energoatom is responsible for the safety of all Ukrainian nuclear power plants under the law on Nuclear Power Use and Radiation Safety. Its main task is construction of new power capacities and lifetime extension for the existing plants, procurement of new fuel and transportation of used fuel, establishment of the national infrastructure for management of irradiated fuel, ensuring physical security of nuclear power facilities, and professional training and development of personnel. 

Goskomatom was replaced by two departments within the Fuel & Energy Ministry: the Department for Nuclear Energy, responsible for civil nuclear power plants operation, and the Department for Atomic Industry, responsible for the development of the nuclear fuel cycle.

The regulator is the State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate of Ukraine (SNRI), now an independent authority (it was until 2001 under the Ministry of Environment Protection & Nuclear Safety as the SNR Committee). In March 2015 the SNRI was accepted as a full member of the Western European Nuclear Regulators’ Association (WENRA).

The State Scientific and Technical Centre for Nuclear and Radiation Safety (SSTC NRS) provides technical advice and support for the SNRI.

The 1995 law on Nuclear Energy Use and Radiation Safety establishes the legal basis of the industry and included a provision for the operating plant to have full legal responsibility for the consequences of any accident. The 1995 law on Radioactive Waste Management complements this, and the consequent state program was approved in 2002.

Safety, security and non-proliferation

After the break-up of the Soviet Union, Ukraine negotiated to repatriate nuclear warheads and missiles to Russia in return for nuclear fuel supplies. Ukraine then joined the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) as a non-nuclear weapons state. Its safeguards agreement under the NPT came into force in 1998, and in 2005 the Additional Protocol to this agreement was ratified.

Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant, Ukraine

The 6GW Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant, located in Energodar, Ukraine, is the biggest nuclear power plant in Europe.

The 6GW Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant (NPP), located in Energodar, Ukraine, is owned and operated by Ukraine’s national nuclear energy generating company NNEGC Energoatom.

Zaporizhzhya is one of the four operating NPPs in the country and generates up to 42 billion kWh of electricity, accounting for about 40% of the total electricity generated by all the Ukrainian NPPs and one-fifth of Ukraine’s annual electricity production.

Operational since 1984, the plant had generated more than 1.23 trillion kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity as of December 2021.

The Zaporizhzhya NPP consists of six pressurised water reactor (PWR) units commissioned between 1984 and 1995, with a gross electrical capacity of 1,000MW each.

Unit 5 of the NPP was reconnected to the United Power System of Ukraine following a scheduled outage in 2019. Similarly, Units 1, 3 and 4 were reconnected to the grid following scheduled outages in 2021. The scheduled outages facilitated the transition of the four units to switch to the nuclear fuel from an alternative supplier Westinghouse.

Zaporizhzhya NPP details and reactors

The Zaporizhzhya nuclear power facility is situated on a 104.7ha site on the banks of the Kakhovka reservoir. The Steppe zone of Ukraine was selected because of available infrastructure at the nearby Zaporozhe Thermal Power Plant, land unsuitable for agriculture and its distance from foreign territories.

Each generating block of the plant consists of a VVER-1000/V-320 reactor, K-1000-60/1500-2 steam turbine and TWW-1000-4 generator. The Soviet-designed VVER-1000s are PWRs designed to operate for 30 years.

In 2021, the fourth 750kV overhead line from the NPP to the Kakhovska substation was commissioned and the plant outdoor switchyard was expanded, which reduced transmission constraints and enabled 17 million kWh a day of additional electricity production by the plant.

Units 1 and 2 underwent a lifetime extension, which involved the modernisation of equipment as well as installation of tension sensors and other advanced safety systems, following the March 2011 Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear disaster.

The central radiation monitoring panel of the NPP was renovated in February 2021. The panel features an automatic system to monitor all radiation and technological parameters pertaining to the condition of the power units, the spent nuclear fuel drying storage facility site and radioactive waste treatment complex, as well as the area surrounding the plant.

Damage from an accidental hit is unlikely

The reactors at Zaporizhzhia are of a modern design. Unlike the Chernobyl reactor, each is enclosed in a pressurised steel vessel, which in turn is housed inside a massive reinforced-concrete containment structure. (The design is called VVER — the Russian acronym for water-water energetic reactor).

The plants also have multiple safety back-up systems, says Michael Bluck, director of the Centre for Nuclear Engineering at Imperial College London. He says that it would be very alarming if the Russian forces were deliberately trying to breach the containment structure, but that catastrophic damage from an accidental hit is unlikely. “If a missile goes astray, I’m less worried about [that]. These are very robust structures,” he says.

Koji Okamoto, a nuclear safety researcher at the University of Tokyo, agrees. “The containment structure may have a resistance to normal weapons,” he says.

And even at the Chernobyl disaster site, the risk of accidental radioactive releases is limited, according to Cheryl Rofer, a retired nuclear scientist based in Santa Fe, New Mexico. “The dangerous material in it is in the basement of the reactor building, protected by the remains of that building and many tons of concrete that have been poured over it,” Rofer wrote in a post on her blog. The ruins of the reactor that exploded in 1986 are enclosed in a massive 63-metre-tall steel and concrete shell called the sarcophagus. “I suspect that a direct artillery hit could breach the shell and allow a small amount of radioactive contaminants to escape, but that solid mass of melted fuel elements, containing uranium and plutonium, is inaccessible,” Rofer wrote.

Spent-fuel ponds are a hazard

Most nuclear power plants – including those at Zaporizhzhia — have water pools where spent fuel rods are kept as they cool down. Damage to one of these pools, whether accidental or intentional, could cause the water to leak out or boil off. The rods would then overheat and start a fire, several observers have warned.

Although not comparable to the Chernobyl disaster in 1986, such a fire could be hazardous to people in the vicinity of the plant, and even to those further afield. “Russia needs to keep in mind that the prevailing winds are towards Russia,” Rofer tells Nature.

One mitigating factor is that fuel rods that have been in the pool for several weeks or months are less dangerous than they were at the beginning, as the main cancer-causing isotope, iodine-131, decays quickly, Bluck points out. In the press conference, Grossi said that no issues had been reported with Zaporizhzhia’s spent fuel ponds.

Outside power and cooling must be maintained

As of 4 March, five of Zaporizhzhia’s six reactors had been shut down, Grossi reported. But even powered down, a reactor that’s still loaded with fuel is not completely devoid of risk. Under normal operations, uranium nuclei in the fuel rods fission, or break up, leaving behind nuclei of lighter elements. These isotopes accumulate during the lifetime of the rods, and many of them are highly radioactive, which continues to produce heat even after shutdown.

This means that the core of a reactor that has just been shut down must be actively cooled, which requires power, normally taken from the grid, to keep water circulating around the core. “You have to remove the decay heat,” Bluck says. “If you don’t cool it until it’s gone, then the core will overheat.” If the reactors’ active cooling suddenly stopped, plants like Zaporizhzhia could face a scenario analogous to that at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Japan, when power was cut off in the aftermath of the 11 March 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami, and three reactors melted down.

A similar event could occur if there is damage to the systems — including pumps, heat exchangers and back-up diesel generators — that provide active cooling and are outside a reactor’s protective containment structure, says Okamoto. “Any nuclear reactor could be damaged when coolants are lost.” There are safety systems in place at Ukrainian plants that make the reactors more resilient to this damage. “VVER-1000 has several alternative cooling systems,” he says. “So it will not immediately be dangerous.” However, Okamoto points out that active cooling might be required for more than ten days after a reactor is shut down. It is unclear whether back-up cooling systems would be able to last for this long.

Several specialists told Nature that even if a reactor core were to melt down, it might not cause a major release of radioactive materials. The main impact of such a crisis could be related to psychology and how people — including politicians and policymakers — react. Many Europeans still remember the days when Chernobyl’s radioactive cloud spread over the continent. “People do not judge the risk of radiation well, and they are much more frightened, frequently, than they need to be,” Rofer says.


Zaporizhzhya spent-fuel dry storage facility

Following the breakup of the USSR, spent-fuel could no longer be transported to Russia, and the shortage of free space in the cooling pools demanded a spent-fuel dry storage facility (SFDSF) at the site. The State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate of Ukraine issued a license for the development of the first SFDSF at Zaporizhzhya NPP in July 2001. Zaporizhzhya is the first Ukrainian NPP with VVER type reactors to include an SFDSF with a 50-year service life.

The spent nuclear fuel from the reactors is stored in cooling pools for four to five years until the residual energy and radioactivity decrease. It is then transferred to the SFDSF.

The storage system can accommodate more than 9,000 spent-fuel assemblies in 380 ventilated storage casks of 144t each. The facility began operations in August 2004 and 167 casks have already been installed on the site.

Zaporizhzhya NPP history and technical design

The Council of Ministers of the USSR decided to build a series of nuclear power plants, including the Zaporizhzhya NPP, in 1978 after the first unit of the Chernobyl NPP began operations.

Zaporizhzhya NPP’s technical design of the first stage, consisting of four units with a combined capacity of 4,000MW, was approved in 1980, and the first unit was commissioned in 1984. The second, third and fourth units were commissioned in 1985, 1986 and 1987, respectively. Meanwhile, the second stage, involving two additional power units with similar reactors, was proposed in 1988, and the fifth unit was commissioned in 1989.

The Chernobyl nuclear disaster prompted the Supreme Council of Ukraine to order a moratorium in 1990 on the construction of new nuclear power units in Ukraine, which led to the suspension of construction work on Unit 6. Severe winters and increasing electricity demand resulted in the lifting of the moratorium, clearing the way for the construction of Unit 6. The unit was finally grid-connected in 1995, becoming the first nuclear reactor unit in an independent Ukraine.

Contractors involved with the Ukrainian nuclear power plant

The VVER-1000 reactors were manufactured by Russian heavy engineering firm Izhorskiye Zavody. The Kharkiv turbine plant, now called Turboatom, supplied the 1,000MW steam turbines. Russian engineering company AtomEnergoproekt designed the Zaporizhzhya NPP. Atomenergomash supplied the top and bottom nozzles for Westinghouse fuel assemblies.

Kharkov Scientific Research & Design Institute ‘Energoprojekt’ (HIEP), Duke Engineering & Services (DE&S), and Sierra Nuclear Corporation (SNC) were involved in the design, construction, testing and operation of the SFDSF.

HIEP was the general consultant for the design and construction of the facility, while DE&S was responsible for the project development, logistics, construction supervision, licensing, quality assurance, commissioning and maintenance of the systems and equipment. SNC supplied the dry cask storage system for the spent-fuel.

Westinghouse Electric Company was awarded a contract by Energoatom to provide a passive hydrogen control system for Units 1 and 2 to enhance the plant’s safety. A contract extension agreement was also signed between the two companies in April 2014 for fuel deliveries to the Ukrainian NPPs through to 2020.

Before the annexation of Crimea, Ukraine depended on Russian nuclear fuel company TVEL for the supply of enriched fuel.

. . . .

The race to buy “IODURE DE POTASSIUM” to protect themselves from radiation in the case of nuclear disaster ….

Effect of Radioactive Substance Leakage from the Nuclear Plant on Thyroid Gland

The effect of exposure to leaked radioactive substances from a nuclear plant on the thyroid gland was first observed in 1986 in Russia, after the Chernobyl disaster.[6,7] Kriukov first noted the abnormalities introduced in the thyroid gland structure after the incident in the ultrasonic scanning of the individuals staying in the affected areas.[4]

Also, the incidence of thyroid cancer was found to be increased.[5] Baverstock and Williams reported that, “radiation to the thyroid from radioisotopes of iodine has caused several thousand cases of thyroid cancer, but very few deaths; exposed children being most susceptible”.[8] Finally, it should be noted that only the incidence of thyroid cancer, and not others, was found to be significantly increased in the populations affected by the Chernobyl disaster,[9] and the risk was most significant in children.[8]

Many hypothesis have been put forth to explain this increase in the incidence of thyroid cancers. According to the first theory, the leaked radioactive iodine from the nuclear reactors can find an easy way into the thyroid gland, and thus cause the mutagenic changes.[5]

According to another theory, the population also showed many genetic abnormalities of the thyroid cells, and molecular biology studies revealed translocation of the Rearranged During Transfection (RET) gene, in carcinoma type Rearranged during Transfection/Papillary Thyroid Carcinoma Type 1 (RET/PTC1) in elderly and Rearranged during Transfection/Papillary Thyroid Carcinoma Type 3 (RET/PTC3) in children, and expression of Tyrosine-protein kinase receptor UFO/ AXL receptor tyrosine kinase (Axl) and growth arrest-specific 6 (Gas6) in children, predisposing such individuals to the development of cancer.[9] The impairment of T cell activity and senility of the immune system, which slows down the killing of the cancerous cells, is also proposed.[10]

Potassium Iodide Prophylaxis in the Crisis

The recent Japanese nuclear detonation crisis has raised global public health concerns and several measures are being taken to prevent the radioactive contamination. Entering into the affected areas has been prohibited by the government, and consumption of edible products and water from these areas is banned. Also, the proposition of giving a potassium iodide prophylaxis to the masses is being discussed.[11–13] The concept behind giving the iodide prophylaxis is the observation that stable iodine supplementation in an iodine deficient population can modify the risk of development of thyroid cancer.[14]

However, the use of iodide prophylaxis has to follow the recommended guidelines,[15] as the use without indication can have its own risks.[16] Crocker noted that “It is recommended that all appropriate counter-radiation measures be considered in the case of a reactor accident; however, the harmful side effects of the various actions be weighed carefully.”[17]

According to guidelines laid down by World Health Organization (WHO), pregnant and breast-feeding women, infants and children under 18 years of age should be given the iodide prophylaxis first, and the potassium iodide should be used immediately where inhalation of radioactive iodine occurs.[18] More information for potassium iodide prophylaxis in cases of nuclear leakage is presented in Table 1. Following the guidelines given in Table 1 has shown to reduce the cancer risk by a factor of three.[18] Also, Figure 1 presents the mechanism due to which this practice has been shown to be effective in preventing thyroid cancer. However, it is important to note that the prophylaxis should not be delayed, and be started as soon as possible, as the efficacy of the prophylaxis will be significantly decreased if it is started late (the golden period is within the first 3 hours of exposure).[18]

An external file that holds a picture, illustration, etc.
Object name is IJEM-15-96-g001.jpg
Table 1
Guidelines by World Health Organization for potassium iodide prophylaxis following a nuclear disaster
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Object name is IJEM-15-96-g002.jpg
Figure 1
Diagrammatic representation of the mechanism of potassium iodide prophylaxis in preventing thyroid cancer

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. . . .

Therapeutic indications and contraindications

Potassium iodide (KI) is a medication and dietary supplement. As a dietary supplement, it has utility in patients with low iodine intake, a more frequent occurrence in developing countries. As a prescribed medication, it is used to treat severe hyperthyroidism, cutaneous inflammatory dermatoses, nuclear emergencies, and protect the thyroid gland when using radiopharmaceuticals.

In severe hyperthyroidism or refractory hyperthyroidism, patients receive KI for short-term use in the following situations[1][2][3][4][5]:

In the preoperative preparation for thyroidectomy in Graves disease.

Thyroid storm because iodine blocks the release of T4 and T3 from the gland within hours.

As adjunctive therapy for Graves disease, used in combined treatment with antithyroid drugs and KI improves the short-term control of Graves hyperthyroidism. Furthermore, it is helpful after administering radioiodine in Graves disease, especially in patients who wish to avoid taking or who are allergic to thionamides.

Concerning emergency radiation, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and the American Thyroid Association (ATA) require states to consider including KI as a protective measure. Its utilization is necessary when within a 10-mile radius of a nuclear, along with adequate prevention methods such as evacuation, sheltering, and avoiding contaminated foods in the event of a nuclear accident. Furthermore, they state that KI must be available to state and local governments.[6]

The guidance titled “Potassium Iodide as a Thyroid Blocking Agent in Radiation Emergencies” from the Food Drug Administration (FDA) of the United States prioritizes age, which is the primary factor determining risk for radioiodine-induced thyroid cancer after radiation exposure. Those at the highest risk are infants, children, and pregnant and nursing females. The recommendation is to treat this population at the lowest threshold of the predicted radioactive dose to the thyroid. 

Any person over 18 years old and up to 40 years old should receive treatment at a slightly higher limit.  Lastly, anyone over 40 years old should have KI treatment only if the predicted exposure level is high enough to destroy the thyroid, inducing lifelong hypothyroidism. KI works best if used within 3 to 4 hours of exposure.

In the event of a nuclear accident, KI pills, taken once daily, decrease thyroid uptake of radioactive iodine. It almost protects the thyroid completely if administered within 12 hours before radioactive iodine exposure; after exposure, the degree of protection declines (80, 40, and 7 percent after 2, 8, and 24 hours, respectively).[7]

Regarding patients with dermatoses, the two best indications in this group are neutrophilic dermatoses and panniculitis. Especially for lymphocutaneous and cutaneous sporotrichosis, itraconazole is the drug of choice for the treatment. However, patients who don’t respond to itraconazole at 200 mg/day can receive KI together with other antimycotics as an alternative.[8] It is also successfully used for other inflammatory dermatoses. For instance, erythema nodosum, subacute nodular migratory panniculitis, nodular vasculitis, erythema multiforme, and Sweet syndrome.[9]

Mechanism of Action

KI has several mechanisms of action on thyroid function. In euthyroid patients, iodine has two effects at two different times. The most rapid (hours to days) effect, at pharmacologic doses of KI, decreases thyroglobulin proteolysis, thereby decreasing thyroid hormone secretion. The resulting slight reductions of T4 and T3 concentrations in serum cause transient increases of thyrotropin (TSH) concentrations in serum.[10] Secondly, KI inhibits thyroid hormone synthesis. The administration of KI leads to temporary inhibition of iodine organification in the thyroid gland, thereby decreasing thyroid hormone biosynthesis, a phenomenon called the Wolff-Chaikoff effect. However, within two to four weeks of continual exposure to excess iodine, organification, and thyroid hormone, biosynthesis resumes normally, called escape from the Wolff-Chaikoff effect.[11][12]

This phenomenon is produced by lower iodide uptake during the escape from the acute Wolff–Chaikoff effect. It results from a decrease in Na+/I– symporter (NIS) expression, except in abnormal autoregulation of the iodine in autoimmune thyroid disease.[13] The iodine organification persists and can result in or exacerbate hypothyroidism in patients with Hashimoto thyroiditis or ameliorate hyperthyroidism in Graves disease.

Thus, patients with Graves hyperthyroidism are more sensitive than normal subjects to the inhibitory effect of pharmacologic doses of iodine, making iodine treatment effective in some patients. Also, pharmacologic amounts of iodine may acutely ameliorate hyperthyroidism by blocking thyroid hormone release.[4] Furthermore, it is used in preparation for thyroidectomy because it decreases the vascularity of the thyroid gland. Therefore, this decreases the risk of post-thyroidectomy hemorrhaging.[1][2] KI should be administered at least one hour after administering thioamides to prevent new hormone synthesis since the new iodine substrate.

In the event of a nuclear accident, taken once daily, KI can decrease the mortality and morbidity of thyroid cancers provoked by radioactive iodine exposure because it directly blocks the radioiodine uptake in the thyroid gland. KI floods the thyroid with non-radioactive iodine, preventing the uptake of the radioactive molecules and subsequently excreted in the urine.[14]

The precise mechanism by which KI acts against inflammatory dermatoses is unknown. The dermatoses treatable with KI usually display neutrophils in the early stages. Research demonstrates that iodine and dapsone can suppress the production of toxic oxygen intermediates by polymorphonuclear cells and thus exert its anti-inflammatory effect.[15] The precise mechanism by which KI kills fungi is also unknown. It is unclear whether KI works against fungi by a fungicidal mechanism or enhancing the body’s immunologic and nonimmunologic defense mechanisms. However, it is possible to assume that it has an important anti-inflammatory role since the patients that show better response also present systemic symptoms and increased C-reactive protein. It usually improves fast, with fever, pain, and erythema reduction in two days and complete remission in up to two weeks.[9]


The dose of KI used to treat dermatoses is much higher than that in thyrotoxicosis (250 mg 3 times daily) or in radiation (100 to 150 mg single dose). Clinicians typically begin treating inflammatory dermatoses with an oral dosage of 300 mg (approximately six drops of supersaturated potassium iodide (SSKI)) 3 times daily, followed by weekly increases as tolerated. In the case of mycoses, the administration is often higher, beginning at 600 mg (approximately 12 drops of SSKI) orally three times each day and often increased to 6 g (about 127 drops of SSKI) daily if tolerated.

Most presentations are given orally, usually with juice or milk, to protect against gastrointestinal irritation. However, there are some exceptions. Several FDA-approved KI products exist, including tablets (65 and 130 mg) and oral solutions (65 mg/mL).

Additionally, there exist another two liquid presentations prescribed orally:

SSKI with 35 to 50 mg of iodine per drop and KI with about 24 mg per drop. It is usually administrated orally and mixed with juice or milk due to the bitter taste, especially in infants.

Potassium iodide-iodine (Lugol solution [5 to 8 mg of iodine per drop]) is usually given orally with the recommended dosage of 3 to 5 drops three times daily. Although iodine is typically well-tolerated, reports exist of local esophageal or duodenal mucosal injury and hemorrhage, particularly in the treatment of thyroid storm.[16][17] Lugol solution can be added directly to intravenous fluids for patients unable to take oral medication because it is sterile.[18] An alternative is to give the iodine solution per rectum.[19]

Adverse Effects

Adverse effects are unlikely when KI is used at low doses and for a short time (less than two weeks). The most common side effects are on the digestive system, predominantly gastrointestinal intolerance and its bitter (metallic) taste; thus, the recommendation is to take it with juice or milk to protect against gastrointestinal irritation.[9] However, significant side effects may occur when high doses are administered, especially for treating infectious skin disorders.

The acute side effects include diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and stomach pain that can be ameliorated with gastrointestinal protection and by avoiding rapid dosage increases. Nevertheless, prolonged use can cause Iodism or potassium toxicity. Iodism is an iodide poisoning syndrome characterized by soreness of the teeth and gums, severe headache, conjunctival hyperemia, lacrimation, blurred vision, rhinorrhea, and sialorrhea.  Concurrent use of KI with impaired renal function or other potassium-containing medications, potassium-sparing diuretics, and angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors (ACE inhibitors) may result in hyperkalemia.[8][9]

Because the patients receive large amounts of iodine in the drug, it could affect the metabolism of the thyroid gland. It can produce a Wolff-Chaikoff effect and produce hypothyroidism. However, there are autoregulation mechanisms that help maintain the normal function of the gland in euthyroid patients. The imbalance of thyroid hormones occurs when autoregulation is defective or absent. If it is just defective, the resulting Wolff-Chaikoff effect is inevitable, TSH increases, and hypothyroidism and goiter ensue. Failure to escape this condition, with resulting hypothyroidism, can result from the administration of KI in patients with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, euthyroid patients previously treated by thyroid surgery or radioactive iodine for Graves’ disease, patients taking certain drugs that inhibit thyroid function (e.g., lithium, phenazone, and, possibly, sulfonamides), patients previously treated with interferon alfa for chronic viral hepatitis,[20] and patients with a history of amiodarone-induced thyrotoxicosis, subacute thyroiditis, or Graves disease. When autoregulation is absent, Jod-Basedow disease occurs. The absence of autoregulation is typically only seen in areas where iodine deficiency with long-standing goiters occurs. This alteration produces an excess of thyroid hormone resulting in thyrotoxicosis.[9]

Allergic reactions such as angioedema and urticaria should be considered during the administration of KI, like any drug. KI use can also cause an uncommon lesion in the skin called Ioderma, which is characterized by severe acneiform, vesicular pustular, hemorrhagic, or urticarial lesions. Other systemic side effects of SSKI include urticaria, fever, eosinophilia, jaundice, pruritus, angioedema, and bronchospasm. In this case, the treatment is high-dose corticosteroid therapy.[21]


KI is contraindicated in patients who have thyroid disease or are using any drug that could alter thyroid function.[22] Contraindications also include patients with an allergy to iodine. Clinicians should avoid giving it to patients with chronic renal failure because of the presence of potassium. Furthermore, it should be avoided in patients using potassium-sparing diuretics or angiotensin-converting-enzyme inhibitors to prevent hyperkalemia.[23] Immunocompromised patients such as patients with cancer, cirrhosis, AIDS, autoimmune diseases, or poorly managed diabetics, transplant patients, and those using corticosteroids should not use KI as it affects the immune system.[23] It should not be indicated in pregnant or nursing women because it causes neonatal hypothyroidism, thyromegaly, fetal airway obstruction, and prolonged labor. Also, it is a pregnancy category D drug.[9]


For all who prescribe KI, previous knowledge of the Wolff-Chaikoff effect, of the patients’ potassium levels, and their renal function is imperative. Recommendations include inquiring about any history of thyroid disease, autoimmune disease, or drugs that the patient is using. Unless there is a suspicion of thyroid disease, the baseline thyroid function test is not indicated.

If KI use is for more than one month, it is recommended to do a screening test of TSH to ensure that the patients are not in hypothyroidism. If iodide-induced hypothyroidism is detected, these changes are reversible by discontinuing the administration of KI.[9] Furthermore, according to the FDA’s guidance, thyroid function should be monitored in pregnant or breastfeeding women, neonates, and young infants if repeat doses are necessary following radioactive iodine exposure. The FDA strongly recommends monitoring neonates and infants for potential hypothyroidism, particularly when:

Nursing mothers who receive greater than one dose of KI

Infants under one month of age receiving any KI

Neonates who receive more than one dose of KI

Neonates or infants whose at-risk mothers do not switch from breast milk to formula or other foods


If iodide-induced hypothyroidism is detected, these changes are reversible by discontinuing the administration of KI. A study of 7 patients with iodide-induced hypothyroidism showed serum T4, T3, and TSH concentrations returned to normal within one month of iodide withdrawal.[22]

Drug-induced hyperkalemia is a medical urgency of which the physician should be aware. Prompt management is necessary with immediate (under 3 minutes) treatment: ECG monitoring is advisable. Changes suggest a potassium level greater than 7 mmol/L. Therefore, calcium gluconate administration is the recommended intervention in that case. Within minutes (under 30 minutes), the treatment combines insulin-dextrose and beta-2 receptor agonists. Within hours (subacute), the management is sodium bicarbonate if the patient has acidosis, loop diuretics, and/or dialysis in patients with advanced Stage 5 kidney disease (eGFR less than 15 mL/min/1.73 m^2) or patients with very high potassium values (i.e., greater than 6.0 mmol/L).[24]

In the case of iodism or ioderma, it is treatable with withdrawal and high doses of corticosteroids.[21]

Enhancing Healthcare Team Outcomes

Therapy with KI requires the efforts of an interprofessional healthcare team. Clinicians, nurses, and pharmacists in many parts of the world continue to use KI drug because of its effectiveness, and low cost or they can use it as a second-line drug when the first-line agent fails, is contraindicated, or cause intolerable side effects or severe allergic reaction to other medications. It is imperative to know the side effect of KI, particularly when treating dermatoses for extended periods, which requires monitoring the patient to prevent adverse effects, especially those related to thyroid disease. Furthermore, it is imperative to know the implication that this drug has as protection following exposure to radiation since clinicians have a brief window in which to apply it to patients and prevent thyroid cancer. Additionally, it is the public health authority’s responsibility to be aware of the capacity to store and administrate KI on time in the case of a nuclear emergency. Interprofessional coordination and teamwork will result in more effective therapeutic results. [Level 5]

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Notes & references


Judith Perera, Nuclear Power in the Former USSR, McCloskey, UK, 2003
Ukrainian Ministry of Fuel & Energy
State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate of Ukraine
National Nuclear Energy Generating Company Energoatom
Shelter Implementation Plan, Chernobyl Shelter Fund, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, February 2000
Holtec delivers first ‘dry’ storage canisters to Chernobyl site, World Nuclear News, 27 November 2015
Areva’s Incredible Fiasco in Chernobyl, le Journal de l’Energie, 17 February 2016
Karel Beckman, Energy PostUkrainian crisis can be solved – with an Energiewende, 22 August 2016
OECD Nuclear Energy Agency and International Atomic Energy Agency, Uranium 2020: Resources, Production and Demand (‘Red Book’)



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