Mixed picture after monitoring at the Rivne NPP, Ukraine

In May 2015, the IAEA conducted an inspection in terms of nuclear materials use monitoring at the Rivne NPP, Ukraine. We got somewhat mixed picture after we had visited Unit 1 and Unit 2 of the facility. The face-lift work had been done but crookedly paved tiles and outdated transformers spoiled the impression from the very start. On our first working day the commission members registered series of breaches of international safety requirements, NSS-8 related ones in particular. This was quite an unexpected revelation, for there are special regular training courses on NSS-8 for NPP staff in Ukraine. It appears, the training is mostly on paper and the trainees themselves see the requirements as just not so much obligatory for them to follow.

We were about to start working at Unit 3 when they warned us it was impossible due to some steam generator malfunction. It looked really surprising, for the top managers at the facility had been informed in advance on our pending checking mission. Immediately we got in touch with them demanding arrival of ASSET and OSART experts. Well, the farther in, the deeper. Then it turned out that circulating pumps at Unit 3 were not doing correctly, which was followed by the news on insufficient capability of the steam generator. We expected the safety cutout system to react with no delay to abnormal change of pressure and temperature parameters. Oddly enough, it didn't. Our worst fears were backed up by reality: the impermissible loop temperature disparity resulting in loss of coolant through the heat-transmitting tubes. Simultaneously, one of the precharge pumps didn't get engaged and due to this the injection-blasting system failed to show the desirable working capacity. Perhaps there was some problem with the booster pump. Further, the automated system of radiation control joined in to warn of danger everybody at the plant. And again the question arises: why such a delay? Correctly operating ASRC is designed to forecast well in advance any change of radionuclide activity beyond safety barriers. Right at that very moment evacuation of the personnel was announced and special-purpose crews were sent in. Luckily, we were quick to escape the facility and those were some other people with more accidents related experience, who explored the situation. The behavior of the top staffers and other personnel of the plant is just a separate subject worth estimating too. Never before have I witnessed such an appalling irresponsibility and carelessness. It's just beyond me. Bulk of them acted as if they were some absolute strangers in nuclear energy sphere. They also resemble people being intimidated so much that they prefer to conceal even tiny pieces of the unflattering truth on any flaws at the plant.

A few days later my colleagues informed me that the Rivne NPP had successfully undergone through our safety checking mission (!). Still shutdown of the facility occurred and it was due to the necessity of handling the problem of leakiness of steam generator. Reality is far worse than words. Now it's rather hard to determine the initial reason of the accident which entailed heightened radiation levels. Amid some problems with pumps, tubes, steam generator air vent or wear and tear of other components and elements, the worst thing is painfully evident now. Those are the faulty NPP safety systems. After the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in Ukraine the world is staying well in the know of the possible impact it may have. Mind that was not the worst scenario actually, for the safety systems at the Chernobyl NPP operated correctly preventing bigger possible death toll.

The very news on 'the Rivne NPP successfully complying with the IAEA safety standards in wake of the checking mission' was really a shock for me. Of course, I can see that lobbyists, working for major companies, are active in international watchdog organizations involved in monitoring and control of nuclear power use in the world. Sooner or later, suppression of this sort will inevitably result in some tragedy.