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World - Europe

Chernobyl and other nuclear workers threaten strike in Ukraine pay dispute

graphic

March 7, 1999
Web posted at: 1:47 a.m. EST (0647 GMT)

SLAVUTYCH, Ukraine (CNN) - A simmering dispute over unpaid salaries may bring this ex-Soviet state's nuclear reactors to a stop.

If a strike occurs, it would affect workers from the Chernobyl nuclear station, scene of the world's worst nuclear accident, and other plants.

Ukrainian nuclear plant workers, who began protests over unpaid salaries last week, now say they will stop work beginning March 22 if salary debts are not paid.

Workers from several nuclear stations have been participating in the protest actions over unpaid salaries, which approach $15 million to date.

Several thousand angry nuclear workers are camped in tents near their stations.

Olexiy Lych, head of the united trade unions of the state nuclear company Energoatom, told a protest rally that the unions "are confident that in this case (nuclear) blocks should be stopped ...and relevant security be provided by specialists in line with a program to be adopted by us."

Lych did not mention earlier threats to reduce electricity output if salaries were not paid off by Saturday.

Officials could not be reached for comment.

Chernobyl employes attend rally

The workers' rally, held in Slavutych, some 200 km (125 miles) north of the capital Kiev, was attended by about 1,500 employees from the Chernobyl nuclear station.

Chernobyl is one of Ukraine's five nuclear plants equipped with 14 Soviet-designed reactors. The 1986 nuclear accident at the Chernobyl plant sent radioactive clouds across Europe.

Government officials have said that salary back pay to nuclear plant workers might be paid off as part of a special credit to the energy sector.

But nuclear workers see this as just a stop-gap measure.

"The problem is in the absense of a civilized energy market in Ukraine, in massive stealing of such a liquid commodity as electricity," said Oleh Goloskokov, head of Chernobyl's information service.

Goloskokov said consumers were currently paying in cash only for 2.5 percent of the electricity generated by the station, and the remaining amount was bartered for wares.

Chernobyl loses up to 50 percent of the value of bartered goods when swapping them for money.

Electricity generated by nuclear power stations is cheaper than that produced by thermal stations, and in the last five years the share of nuclear plants in the country's electricity production has grown to 44-50 percent from 20-25 percent.

Trade union leaders say that hungry workers cannot perform their work properly, and scanty financing of stations cannot guarantee their safe use.

Reuters contributed to this report.


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RELATED SITES:
Chernobyl Nuclear Accident
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National Nuclear Generatig Company "Energoatom"
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