By LLOYD RUNDLE

LONDON, Sept. 7, 2000 (The Independent) — The European Commission approved a loan programme yesterday to help fund two new nuclear reactors to replace the unsafe Chernobyl plant when it closes at the end of the year.

Despite concerns about the dangers of nuclear power, the commission argues the loans are part of the EU’s efforts to “streamline” and improve nuclear safety in eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.

The closure of the Chernobyl plant in the Ukraine comes 14 years after it was the site of the world’s worst civilian nuclear disaster, and is dependent on EU and US funding.

The programme will cost up to $1.5bn (pounds 1bn) and the commission will be seeking loans from its member states for the funding. In addition to paying for the decommissioning of the three functioning Chernobyl reactors, the commission will provide money for the completion of two new reactors elsewhere in the Ukraine, to bring them up to “internationally accepted levels of safety at a reasonable cost”.

A further EU loan is likely to go to the construction of a nuclear reactor in the Russian city of Kalinin, as long as Russia agrees to shut down at least one other older facility.

The commission says that under the programme funds will be provided only for those reactors that can be upgraded. The programme has already provoked concern among three EU member states, Germany, Austria and Sweden – three nations pushing for the total phasing out of nuclear power.

In defiance of their concern, the commission insists the EU must stick to a commitment made in 1995 by the Group of Seven industrialised nations to fund alternative sources of energy, including nuclear reactors, in the Ukraine.

Although the commission has the right to go ahead with the loan without the approval of EU member states, it says it will only proceed if the European Bank of Development and Reconstruction contributes.

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