Russian "nuclear renaissance" delayed again

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
WISE Russia/ Ecodefense

On February 17, the Russian government decided to delay investment into large-scale program aimed at construction of new nuclear reactors and large hydro plants. Russian deputy prime minister Igor Sechin proposed to re-direct governmental funding to other areas with federal budget deficit. Russian government expect to save around 15 billion rubles (US$500 million; 365 million euro) by delaying new nuclear reactors and hydro plants. No detail was given so far about how it will affect projects of new nuclear plants which are already under construction.

The decision to re-direct government funding, corresponds with earlier statements by Russian Government’ Accounting Office (GAO) which suggested most of the reactors will not be built on time. In March 2010, Russian GAO released results of its inspection of the Ministry of energy. GAO concluded that 60% of new reactors scheduled to come on-line before 2015 will not be built in time. Russian state nuclear corporation  Rosatom did not comment on this, but in other statements it said reactors may come on-line later than planned because the economic crisis affected energy demand.

In 2008 Russian government approved "General scheme for energy generating capacities" which included detailed plan for construction of all types of power plants during the next two decades. This scheme suggested 13GWt of new reactor capacity will be installed by 2015 (equal to 13 VVER-1000 units or 11 VVER-1200 units). Then in 2010 GAO admitted only 5,2GWt will be installed by 2015. But this figure is far from reality too, according to Russian anti-nuclear campaigners.

“Russian government is supporting  Rosatom in any way it can. It’s completely blind when it comes to nuclear industry ignoring democratic norms in the process of site selection and licensing of reactors; also when local population is protesting and the site is geologically inappropriate for construction. But even then, it is unlikely that Rosatom will install 5,2GWt until 2015 in Russia. They can rather hope for 2-3 new reactors”, said Russian environmental group Ecodefense in its press-statement following decision of Russian government on February 17.

Vladimir Milov, former deputy minister for energy in Russian government and presently one of the opposition leaders, told the 'Nuclear Monitor' that for two years, it was clear that the number of new reactors will be reduced because the consequences of economic crisis in Russia are big.

Currently, there are several reactors under construction in Russia: two light water units of the new VVER-1200 design at Novovoronezh-2 nuclear complex, same design at Leningrad-2 nuclear power plant, one older light water reactor VVER-1000 at Kalinin and a fastbreeder BN-800 at Beloyarsk. Construction of last two units started well over 20 years ago while newer units’ construction started just 3 years ago.

At two more sites in North-West and Central Russia the construction of reactors may start in 2011 and 2012. At the site of Baltic nuclear power plant in the Kaliningrad region, near the border with Lithuania, preparatory work is going on since February 2010. It is planned that first unit of VVER-1200 design will be put in operation by 2016. According to nuclear industry sources, active reactor construction may start as soon as Spring 2011.

Another site located close to the ancient city of Murom, 300 km east of Moscow, is under controversial development. At the end of 2010, Russian state nuclear corporation Rosatom obtained license allowing preparatory work on-site. That license came only on the condition that Rosatom will spend one year to conduct research which will bring better understanding of the site’ geological condition. Russian regulatory attempted to both satisfy Rosatom with permit for nuclear plant construction and opponents of the project who criticized poorly prepared documentation and site selection process.

In 2010, reports were published several times about large-scale corruption at the construction site of Novovoronezh-2, which leads to lower safety and may possible slow down the project. Reports were published mostly by 'ProAtom', the pro-nuclear internet forum close to a group of influential former nuclear professionals.

Another report on the risk of corruption in Rosatom-operations came from “Transparency International – R” and Ecodefense in November 2010. The two groups analyzed open trade operations by various branches of  Rosatom and concluded that the risk of corruption is very high because of poor governmental regulation and the control over the state company is very weak. Rosatom publicly denied the conclusion in a statement for the media. But then it invited “Transparency International – R” to a private closed-door meeting in which (according to sources in TI-R) it confirmed that some corruption exist on lower level and proposed various joint activities.

Lack of governmental funds, corruption, growing criticism over Rosatom's activities among the Russian public – it is clear that all these reasons will play a role in slowing down reactor construction in Russia. It may be hard to predict today the exact number of new reactors which will appear across Russia during the next decade, but it is clear that a new, much more difficult epoch has arrived for Rosatom.

Source and contact: WISE Russia