Chernobyl Aid Deal Divides G-7 Leaders

WASHINGTON -- While U.S. officials worry about another accident at Chernobyl, they are faced with a quandary: Should the West help Ukraine build more nuclear power plants as a price to get the Chernobyl reactors shut down? Leaders of the Group of Seven leading industrialized nations, including President Bill Clinton, tackle the issue at an economic conference in Naples, Italy, this week, hoping to write an aid plan that will persuade Ukraine to close the Chernobyl reactors. One proposal would funnel an estimated $1.8 billion to Ukraine to close the plant. But Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk suggested Tuesday that more international aid will be needed because substitute energy sources also will have to be developed before he considers closing the reactors. Western leaders have been divided over how best to help Ukraine develop replacement electricity. Chernobyl supplies 3 percent of Ukraine's demand. One nagging question is whether the West should pay for finishing five partially completed Russian-made reactors to make up for the lost Chernobyl power. The Russian VVER-1000 design reactors are safer than the Chernobyl design, but still not as safe as Western-built reactors. Germany and France have pushed for helping Ukraine complete the new reactors with improved safety features, but the United States would like a broader aid package. The U.S. State Department urges against picking a fight with the Europeans over this and favors completing the new reactors. The U.S. Energy Department argues that money should be earmarked to promote energy efficiency, modernizing and expanding fossil-fuel plants and building wind-powered generating facilities. "I don't think anybody is ruling out some expenditure on safety upgrades of nearly completed nuclear facilities," Deputy U.S. Energy Secretary Bill White said in an interview. "But we do believe there are energy sources and energy savings that also ought to be in the picture." In any case, the cost to the West could be billions of dollars. Just closing the Chernobyl reactors and repairing the sarcophagus that now encases the burned-out Unit 4 reactor could exceed $ 1.4 billion, energy experts say, with the cost of developing replacement power two or three times that amount. The cost of completing the new Russian-design reactors ranges from $34 million to nearly $1.3 billion per reactor. Much of the business would go to nuclear vendors in Europe and the United States. But an Energy Department analysis concludes that it would be cheaper to modernize, expand and improve energy efficiency in Ukraine's industrial plants.