Atomic Energy Peril

Ukraine's nuclear-power plants, which produce 43 percent of the country's electricity, are in desperate need of repairs, modernization, and fuel, but don't have the funds. In fact, unless the entire state-run energy industry is privatized, it may go bankrupt -causing a disastrous ripple effect throughout the already ailing Ukrainian economy. That is the nightmarish picture painted by Ivan Vorotynsky in Nezavisimaya Gazeta.

Recently, there have been several emergencies each month at Ukrainian nuclear plants, and atomic energy officials predict that the number of reactor accidents will increase, writes Vorotynsky. To lessen the likelihood of a full-blown disaster, officials have shut down seven of 14 reactors they had hoped to use to supply power during the summer months. With the Ukrainian economy in a shambles, customers paid only 10 per-cent of their electric bills in cash in 1998; the rest were paid in the form of promissory notes and barter. So the facilities lack the money for basic maintenance.

Experts attribute the problem to inefficient government management, says Vorotynsky. And sentiment is growing in Ukraine for a takeover of the nuclear-power industry's financial operations by commercial banks. The administration of President Leonid Kuchma is considering a Ukrainian investment bank's proposal to establish a trading house that would ensure payments for electricity and guarantee deliveries of Russian nuclear fuel to Ukrainian power plants.