Tag Archives: Rosatom

One Player, Many Pawns: the thirst for nuclear technology

The Hanhikivi plant in Finland will use Russian nuclear technology. model of the plant from wikipedia

The nuclear power industry, which had been in the doldrums since the 1980s, suffered a devastating blow in 2011 when a tsunami engulfed the Fukushima power plant in Japan, ultimately causing a meltdown. The amount of electricity generated by nuclear power worldwide plunged 11% in two years, and has not recovered since. Within this declining industry, one country now dominates the market for design and export of nuclear plants: Russia.

Rosatom, Russia’s state-owned nuclear-power company,  is focused on what some call the “great grand middle”: countries that are close allies of neither the United States nor Russia. In April Russia started building Turkey’s first nuclear plant, worth $20bn. Its first reactor is due for completion in 2023. Rosatom says it has 33 new plants on its order book, worth some $130bn. A dozen are under construction, including in Bangladesh, India and Hungary…. Once completed the plants offer an obvious diplomatic lever in the form of sway over a large portion of a country’s electricty generation… The relationship betweeen exporter and customer is particularly close in a nuclear plant’s early years, when local employees are still being trained and the exporting country is direclty involved in the plant’s operation….

Russia’s nuclear programme has endured for two main reasons. Its designs are cheap, and Rosatom enjoys the backing of the state, which helps it absorb hard-to-insure risks like nuclear meltdowns. Its competitors trail hopelessly: France’s Areva (now Orano) has started building only two plants in the past ten years, in Finland and China; both are delayed and over budget. KEPCO, South Korea’s energy company, is facing a domestic backlash against nuclear power, while Westinghouse, in America, is only now emerging from bankruptcy.

Russia’s only real competitor is China..Yet although China will surely catch up, for now Russia has no serious rivals in the export of nuclear technology. In a world that needs to generate much more electricity from nuclear power if it is to take decarbonisation seriously, that is a sobering though

Excerpts from  Atoms for Peace: Russia and Nuclear Power, Economist, Aug. 4, 2018, at 43

Fake Nuclear Leaks:

Nuclear plant, Belarus. Image from wikipedia

Russia, which for years has used its vast supply of natural gas as a political lever with energy-hungry Europe, is building a nuclear power plant in Moscow-friendly Belarus. Neighboring Lithuania and Poland are so determined to escape Russia’s clutch that they refused to buy electricity from the plant.

Still, the $11 billion Ostrovets nuclear-power project, 30 miles from Lithuania’s capital, Vilnius, is fueling fears in the Baltic republic. Lithuanians say they don’t think Moscow would actually trigger a nuclear accident but they do worry about a panic-inducing warning of a leak—real or not.  “Even a fake message about the disaster could trigger a lot of damage to our country,” said Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaitė. “We treat this as a national security threat.”  Evacuating Vilnius would be massively disruptive, lower the country’s defenses, and increase its vulnerability to potential covert action by Russia…

Infrastructure projects are seen as potential weapons in other parts of the world. South Korea so fears North Korea will use its Imnam hydroelectric dam to try to flood Seoul that it spent $429 million building its own dam in defense. China’s new artificial islands in the South China Sea are seen by the U.S. and its allies as permanent aircraft carriers…

European officials are divided over the potential threat from the Ostrovets plant. Rosatom has projects around Europe, including nuclear power plants under construction in Hungary and Finland. Accidents are bad for business, even false alarms, say energy experts.

Excerpts from Russia Nuclear Plant Worries Europe, Wall Street Journal,  Dec. 24, 2017

300 Years and Counting: Nuclear Waste in Russia

City of Novouralsk Russia, Image from wikipedia

Russia opened it first ever repository for low and medium level nuclear waste last week in a major benchmark for the country’s radioactive waste …Alexander Nikitin, chairman of the Environmental Rights Center Bellona… called the opening of the repository “the first important step” of Russia’s National Operator for Radioactive waste management.

The 48,000 cubic meter facility in the Sverdlovsk Region’s close nuclear city of Novouralsk lies at shallow depth and operates as a repository for what state nuclear corporation Rosatom classifies as type 3 and 4 wastes.The new facility will be able to store solid waste in isolation from the outside environment for 300 years, ten times longer than any other current storage schemes in Russia….

The Novouralsk site…. is the first of several that will open in Russia in the coming years….Rosatom plans to build a repository for type 3 and 4 waste at the closed nuclear city of Ozersk, where the notorious Mayak Chemical Combine is located. Another is planned for the closed city of Seversk in the Tomsk Region.

A site for Rosatom types 1 and 2 waste, representing high level nuclear waste, is currently being sited at the Nizhnekansky Rock Mass in the Krasnoyarsk Region.If the rock mass proves suitable for deep geological storage of intermediate and high level waste, construction of the repository could begin in 2024. How much waste the site would hold has yet to be determined.

Excerpts from Charles Digges, Russia’s first nuclear waste repository starts operation, Bellona, December 14, 2016

Nuclear Industry: France, Russia and China

Olkiluoto-3 under construction in 2009. It is scheduled to start electricity production in 2018, a delay of nine years. image from wikipedia

[Regarding the French nuclear company Areva] its newest product, the expensive European Pressurised Reactor (EPR), has encountered more than the teething problems common to all big industrial projects. A plant in Finland is almost ten years behind schedule and almost three times over budget: Areva has had to write off billions as a result….Two reactors in China and the only new-build in France, at Flamanville, are also running late. EDF played an important role in managing the Chinese and French projects.

Besides criticism for slack project management, Areva and EDF (Electricite de France) have been questioned over technical standards. The steel in the main reactor vessel at Flamanville is faulty, the Nuclear Safety Authority said in April 2015. EDF disputes the finding and, with Areva, has started new tests. The news added to growing disenchantment in Britain with an agreement, not yet firm, that expensively entrusts the construction of a power station incorporating two Areva EPRs to a consortium led by EDF.  It seems unlikely that Areva will find many more foreign takers for its existing reactor…

[S]ome of Areva’s rivals are racing ahead. Rosatom, a Russian nuclear firm, has built up a fat order-book. Keen pricing, generous financing and relaxed technology transfer help, though Western sanctions do not. China’s two reactor-builders, CNNC and CGN, are peddling their own new design, Hualong One; in February CNNC signed a preliminary agreement to supply a reactor to Argentina.

Areva has little reason to hope for a surge of new orders at home. France’s 58 reactors are elderly but EDF, which operates them, plans to revamp rather than replace them…A new law set to come into force this summer, pledging somehow to cut France’s dependence on nuclear power from 75% to 50% of its electricity needs by 2025, will make Areva’s prospects even bleaker.

Excerpts from France’s nuclear industry: Arevaderci, Economist, May 23, 2015, at 53.

The Nuclear Plants of South Africa

WWER Russian  nuclear reactors located close to the Finnish city of Loviisa

South Africa signed a partnership agreement (Sept 2014) with Russia’s state-owned nuclear company, Rosatom Corp. to build reactors in Africa’s second-biggest economy.  “The agreement lays the foundation for the large-scale nuclear power plants procurement and development program” using Russian VVER reactors with installed capacity of about 9,600 megawatts, or as many as eight nuclear units, Rosatom and the South African government said in an e-mailed statement. The country also has a draft nuclear cooperation pact with China.

South Africa’s integrated resources plan envisions 9,600 megawatts of nuclear energy being added to the national grid to help reduce reliance on coal, which utility Eskom Holdings SOC Ltd. uses to generate 80 percent of the country’s electricity. The state-owned company is struggling to meet power demand,The National Treasury said in February 2013 that a 300 billion-rand ($27 billion) nuclear program was in the final stages of study…

The collaboration will result in orders worth at least $10 billion to local industrial companies, Rosatom Director General Sergei Kirienko said in the statement.In addition to building the nuclear units, the agreement provides for partnerships including the construction of a Russian technology-based research reactor, assistance in the development of South African nuclear infrastructure and education of specialists at Russian universities, the parties said in the statement.  Rosatom currently holds projects for the construction of 29 nuclear power plants, including 19 foreign commissions in countries including India, China, Turkey, Vietnam, Finland and Hungary.

Excerpts from Paul Burkhardt , South Africa Signs Agreement With Russia for Nuclear Pow, Bloomberg,  Sep 22, 2014