Nuclear power in Ukraine (02.08. 2023)

• Ukraine has 15 Soviet-designed pressurised water reactors (PWRs) at four sites

• The country covers half of its electricity demand with nuclear power

• There are declarations of intent for new build of large nuclear power plants (NPPs) and small modular reactors (SMRs)

• As a result of the Russian war of aggression, Ukraine is currently stepping up its efforts to gain independence from its neighbouring country, as evidenced i.a. by its cooperation with Westinghouse regarding the supply of fuel assemblies.

• The six units of the Zaporizhzhya NPP are occupied by Russia and have been shut down since 2022

• The four units of the Chernobyl NPP on the Belarusian border are being dismantled


Status quo of power generation

In 2020, Ukraine generated more than 148 terawatt hours (TWh) of electricity, with net exports of 2.4 TWh. 15 reactors with a total capacity of 13.1 gigawatts (electric) covered 51 percent of the energy demand. A large part of the primary energy sources used in Ukraine also comes from the country's uranium and coal deposits. 

Anzahl KKW und Strommix Ukraine
Anzahl KKW und Strommix Ukraine

Due to the war, the demand for electricity within Ukraine has meanwhile decreased and, according to the grid operator Ukrenergo, can be covered by domestic generation. The six units of the largest nuclear power plant on European soil (Zaporizhzhya) are shut down.  Which power generation plants are currently in operation and to what extent is not published for reasons of wartime tactics - this also applies to the remaining nine nuclear reactors in operation at the Rivne, Khmelnytsky and South Ukraine sites.  

Political and legal framework

Under the term "Energy Bridge", the grid operators of Ukraine and Poland signed an agreement on the export of electricity between Ukraine and the European Union in 2015. However, the project has not yet been implemented. The following year, the European power grid operator (ENTSO-E) signed agreements with Ukrenergo (Ukraine) and Moldelectrica (Moldova) on the future interconnection of power grids. In February 2022, Ukraine requested emergency synchronisation with the EU grid. As a result, on 16 March, the grids of Ukraine and Moldova were synchronised with the continental European grid on a trial basis. To strengthen the independence of Ukraine's energy sector, the country also plans to produce its own natural gas.

Current plans and projects

Although Ukraine has its own uranium ore deposits, it used to purchase a large part of its nuclear services and fuel from Russia before the war began. Since the 2000s already, Ukraine has been trying to diversify its fuel supplies. Therefore, Westinghouse fuel assemblies were qualified for use in the VVER1000 and have been in use there for years. From 2023, Westinghouse will also supply fuel assemblies for the VVER440 plants.

Originally, the Ukrainian reactors, 12 of which were built in the 1980s, were designed to operate for 30 years. In the meantime, after extensive modernisation measures, life extensions beyond this have been approved for some of them.

Map of Ukraine
Karte Ukraine

Large NPPs. Construction of the Khmelnitsky-3 and -4 units, whose construction had already started in 1986/87, is still suspended. Unit 4 was last planned as an AP1000 pilot project in which components from the aborted VC-Summer project in the US were to be used.

However, according to media reports, talks are currently taking place between Bulgaria and Ukraine about using components from the discontinued construction project at the Belene site to complete Units 3 and 4. Another nine AP1000 units are projected, based on an agreement Westinghouse signed with Energoatom in June 2022. In addition to reactors at existing sites at Zaporizhzhya, Rivne and South Ukraine, plants near Chyhyryn in the Cherkasy region and at a new site in West Ukraine are also under discussion. In January 2023, the Cabinet of Ministers gave the go-ahead for work to begin on the project documentation for the construction of Unit 5 and Unit 6 at Khmelnitsky. First commissioning of the two units is expected between 2030 and 2032. Components of the VC-Summer project could be used here.

SMR. In June 2019, the consortium between the US company Holtec, Energoatom and the Ukrainian State Scientific and Technical Centre for Nuclear and Radiation Safety (SSTC NRS) was established. The consortium announced that it is considering the construction of six SMR-160s at the site of Ukraine's Rivne nuclear power plant from 2030. In February 2020, SSTC NRS signed a memorandum of understanding with NuScale Power to collaborate on regulatory and design gaps between the US and Ukrainian licensing, construction and operation processes for a NuScale power plant in Ukraine. In September 2021, Energoatom signed a Memorandum of Understanding with NuScale to explore the deployment of NuScale plants in Ukraine. Ukraine is also in discussions with Holtec (also USA), Leadcold (Sweden) and Rolls-Royce (UK).

Research reactors

Ukraine has been operating a nuclear research reactor with a thermal power of 10 megawatts (MW) in Kiev (WWR-M) since 1960. A subcritical nuclear neutron source is located in Kharkiv. The two facilities are used for research purposes (nuclear and materials technology studies) and for isotope production for medicine, research and technology. In the course of the war, the neutron source in Kharkiv has already been damaged several times, but according to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), this has not yet led to the release of radioactive substances. The neutron source had already been shut down before the war began.

Plants for fuel fabrication/processing

Ukraine has four uranium ore mines operated by the state-owned VostGOK company: at Michurinske, Tcentralne, Vatutinske and Novokostyantynivske. A processing plant - also operated by VostGOK - is located in the town of Zhovti Vody. According to the "Red Book" of the IAEA and the OECD NEA, Ukraine has increasingly focused on the development of mines in recent years (investments in 2021 approx. USD 3.3 million). The government's goal is to cover the entire domestic uranium demand by 2035 through local production. Globally, Ukraine's uranium production accounts for a share of 2 per cent. Investments are also to be made in domestic fuel production and uranium enrichment. In addition, the country is focusing on the exploration of potential thorium resources.