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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Nuclear Head Blasts Chernobyl Shutdown

Russia's atomic energy minister has denounced Ukraine's decision to close the Chernobyl nuclear power plant next month, saying it was politically motivated with no technical or safety justification.

Yevgeny Adamov, in an interview with foreign journalists late Monday, also said Russia would proceed with plans to expand its network of 29 reactors, develop controversial fast breeder units and boost lucrative reprocessing of spent fuel.

Adamov said it made far more sense to modernise the sole remaining RBMK reactor at Chernobyl, site of the world's worst civil nuclear accident in 1986, rather than submit to Western pressure to close it on December 15. Such improvements had been carried out at 11 such reactors in Russia, he said.

"The event in Ukraine in mid-December is a very political event. There are no grounds -- technical or safety -- to close the Chernobyl nuclear power plant," he said in English.

"There is a trade-off or compromise between Ukraine getting loans and pressure to close the plant. Show me a single serious scientific or technical report why it is not possible to do the same as we are doing, for example, at our Leningrad plant."

Chernobyl's reactor Number 3, free of incidents for nine months after an overhaul last year, shut down automatically Monday when cold weather knocked out power lines. It is unclear whether it will be restarted ahead of the impending closure deadline.



NAME ASSOCIATED WITH DISASTER

The 1986 fire and explosion at Chernobyl sent radioactivity over most of Europe and is held responsible for thousands of deaths in Ukraine, Belarus and Russia.

The reactor now produces about five percent of Ukraine's electricity and both plant staff and nuclear officials have long said it should remain open despite unrelenting Western pressure. Staff are alarmed at the prospect of 9,000 lost jobs.

Yuri Neretin, chief engineer at Chernobyl, told Reuters the reactor could be safely operated until 2011.

"The station is good and reliable. It has been working at 82 percent of its designed capacity," he said. "This is higher than the world average and at the level of Japanese reactors."

Ukrainian officials reluctantly agreed to the shutdown, saying upgrades were costly and exposed staff to radiation.

Adamov said the closure was not a setback for the legacy of the Soviet nuclear industry. That, he said, was shown by the fact that two more modern reactors being completed in Ukraine, with Western financing promised, were of Soviet design.

Russia's nuclear industry plans 20 new reactors under a long-term development programme, with the first unit of a new station in Rostov-on-Don to come on stream in the coming months.

RUSSIA'S SAFETY RECORD ACCEPTABLE

Adamov said safety was the top priority, with Russia's record meeting international standards. "The best record is in Japan. We are near the average," he said.

He dismissed accusations by the head of Russia's Nuclear Safety Inspectorate that his ministry wanted to do away with the body and take over control of all safety checks.

"There was never a proposal to do away with independent nuclear inspectorate," he said. "The existence of an independent body must be fully supported. The next question is what the jurisdiction of various government bodies are to be."

Adamov also pledged to move forward with proposals to restructure Russia's electricity industry to enable the more profitable nuclear sector to take control of its own income.

He backed proposed expansion of fast-breeder reactors, which produce more plutonium than they use, despite a patchy record in western Europe. He said he would seek approval to boost imports of spent fuel for reprocessing, a potential big money earner.

"A closed nuclear cycle is the only way for the industry," he said. "We have only enough uranium resources for the next 100 years."

Adamov denied allegations by the ecological group Greenpeace that Russia intended to import nuclear waste for disposal.

He also said Russia would stick to its agreement to help Iran build its Bushehr nuclear plant -- despite objections by the United States, which views Tehran as a sponsor of terrorism.

"In any case, we have an obligation to finish Bushehr," he said. "There is no example of the Soviet Union or Russia failing to fulfil an obligation."