Chernobyl scrap: Ukraine wants to trade

Ukraine has been planning to lift a ban on the export and recycling of scrap metal from the contaminated zone around the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Russian authorities fear some material could  end up in Russia.

Scrap metal collectors have been illegally dismantling the abandoned machinery ever since the Chernobyl disaster created a 30-kilometre exclusion zone in 1986. Twenty years on, radioactivity tests show that contamination there still far exceeds accepted levels.

The first rush for Chernobyl’s scrap came three years ago, when the state-owned Kompleks company was officially given the green light to sell metals from the zone. Ukraine’s state budget has been fed by almost $1 mln annually thanks to the company’s activities.

Russia, Ukraine’s biggest importer of pipes and steel reinforcement used in construction, demanded a ban on the recycling of Chernobyl’s metal. This was eventually imposed by the Ukrainian emergencies ministry.

Now, Ukraine wants to disassemble the power-generating units at Chernobyl. Processing plants  once so profitable could soon be operating at full capacity again, with more than 100 tonnes of radioactive metal earmarked for recycling.

If it comes together, the project could bring Ukraine up to $1 bln. Five power units at the nuclear station could be disassembled, leaving the sarcophagus, built to contain the destroyed reactor, intact.

Russian State Duma deputies have appealed to Ukrainian counterparts to develop legislation prohibiting the recycling of Chernobyl’s metal and its export to Russia.

The problem at the Russia-Ukraine border is worsened by lack of equipment able to detect radiation. If  illegal metal exports persist, Russia and the European Union might impose an embargo on all exports of metal from Ukraine. This would seriously damage the Ukrainian metallurgy industry, where turnover runs to $200 mln a month.