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Russia's nuclear power export program

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

Russian environmental group Ecodefense has released a report titled "Dreams and reality of the Russian reactor export". The report focuses on planned and ongoing construction of Russian-designed nuclear power plants around the world and the amounts Russia is willing to spend to support its reactor export.

Throughout 2018, Rosatom repeatedly stated that it was building 36 new nuclear reactors in a number of countries and estimated the total value of its foreign nuclear orders at over US$130 billion. However, according to Ecodefense's report, as of early 2019, only seven Russian nuclear reactors were under active construction worldwide – one unit in Turkey, two in Bangladesh, two in Belarus, and two in India. The total cost of these reactors is around US$36 billion. As for the rest of the reactors Rosatom claims it is building, those are not under active construction, and several of the deals are not backed by legally binding documents.

The Russian government continues to stimulate nuclear reactor export with state funds. In total, the amount of Russian credits and other means of financial support comes to around US$90 billion. In most of the cases, credits are provided at an interest rate of 3%, which is significantly cheaper than those offered by private banks. Without Russian state funds most of Rosatom projects would never be implemented.

In 2018, Jordan decided to cancel the project of a Russian-designed nuclear power plant as it could not secure sufficient funds for it. Earlier, Vietnam and South Africa abandoned similar projects. Attempts to get additional funding for the Akkuyu project in Turkey have so far failed. In this situation the Russian government may again decide to tap into the National Wealth Fund, a key element of the Russian pension system, to finance its nuclear expansion. Just as it did once in the past to provide funds for a delayed Hanhikivi nuclear project in Finland.

Vladimir Slivyak, author of the report and co-chairman of Ecodefense, said: "Spending $90 billion for nuclear projects in other countries is an absolute historic record. And these funds are flowing mostly to developing countries, which wouldn't be able to order reactors otherwise. Rosatom says it is building 36 new units, but the reality is a bit different – only seven Russian reactors are presently under active construction."

"Nuclear reactors continue to be very expensive and unnecessary as alternative energy is booming around the world. They haven't become safer since Fukushima and they still produce nuclear waste that will be dangerous for many thousands of years ahead. The Russian government should stop its reactor exports to avoid unnecessary expenses and new accidents," Slivyak added.

Vladimir Milov, former Deputy Energy Minister of Russia, writes in his foreword to the report: "Rather than enjoying the much-touted hard currency proceeds from the construction of nuclear power plants abroad, Russia itself pays for many projects. Including with subsidies from the National Wealth Fund (which is designed to finance the country's beleaguered pension system) or by extending other countries ultracheap credits at interest rates our own citizens and businesses could only dream of. … One hopes this report will help push forward a broad national debate on the merits of the Russian public's continued sponsorship of a risky nuclear expansion."

The full report is online: Vladimir Slivyak, 2019, 'Dreams and reality of the Russian reactor export',

Ecodefense media release:

Nuclear Energy: The looming dependency on Rosatom in the EU

Another report written by Jan Haverkamp earlier this year concerns the looming dependency on Rosatom in the EU. Whereas nuclear power is on the decline in most of the world, Central Europe's enthusiasm for the technology appears untouched. Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia and Ukraine are preparing to prolong the lifetime of their old Soviet reactors. And to enable that, they are closely cooperating with Rosatom.

Belarus and Hungary are, respectively, constructing or preparing construction of new nuclear capacity, in set-ups completely controlled by Rosatom.

Bulgaria, the Czech Republic and Slovakia are positioning their remaining hopes for new nuclear on close cooperation with Russia.

Even Ukraine, with all its tensions with Russia, appears to be bound hand and feet to cooperation with Rosatom to upkeep and potentially expand its own nuclear fleet.

And Finland appears to be stuck in a nuclear bear-hug with its Loviisa nuclear plant, its plans for the Hanhikivi new build reactor, and in having to tolerate the expansion of the Leningradskaya nuclear plant near Sosnovy Bor on its borders.

Rosatom tries to expand its presence in the European electricity market. It has been argued extensively in recent years that this is driven not by a sense to service a traditional market, but rather by a political agenda in which nuclear power partially replaces the receding political influence of gas. This hypothesis only makes sense when we can also see an increase in dependency on Rosatom as a result of its nuclear cooperation with EU and surrounding countries. Haverkamp's report sketches the contours of that debate. It concludes that the dependency on Rosatom is indeed growing and that in some cases Rosatom is instrumental to political goals beyond the company's realm.

Full report: Jan Haverkamp for The Greens/EFA in the European Parliament, 2019, 'Nuclear Energy: The looming dependency on Rosatom in the EU',

Media release:

World's first purpose-built floating nuclear plant Akademik Lomonosov reaches Murmansk

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Jan Haverkamp

On May 19, the world's first purpose-built floating nuclear power plant was moored at the Atomflot wharf on the edge of Murmansk, a port city in north-western Russia, with extensive celebrations. The arrival of the Akademik Lomonosov two days earlier in the bay of Murmansk was met a lot more critically by environmental NGOs Greenpeace, Socio-Ecological Union (Friends of the Earth Russia) and Ecodefense. The groups asked Rosatom, the Russian Ministry of Environment and Russian nuclear regulator Rostechnadzor, as well as the cooperation body the Arctic Council to assure that the further development of the project will be submitted to an environmental impact assessment and will take place under full, independent and peer-reviewed nuclear regulatory oversight.1

A month earlier, it looked like the Akademik Lomonosov was going to start its 8,000 km voyage from St. Petersburg to its final destination Pevek in the Russian far north-east province of Chukotka without a lot of attention. A year ago, hefty protests in St. Petersburg and from the countries around the Baltic Sea and Norway had taken out the most vulnerable sting. The construction of the barge with two 35 MW ice-breaker type nuclear reactors was finalised at the Baltiysky shipyard in the centre of St. Petersburg. Plans to load and test the reactors on that spot and then tow them in an irradiated state along the rocky coasts of the Baltic Sea and Norway triggered a 12,000 strong petition in St. Petersburg, and a flurry of diplomatic visits and letters.

Rosatom gave in and shifted loading and testing from 2.5 km from the St. Isaac Cathedral to the nuclear shipyard at Murmansk. The fuel was to be shipped by train. And with that, attention fell away.

However, on the 32nd anniversary of Chernobyl, April 26, Greenpeace pointed out fact that the project was going ahead without proper nuclear regulatory oversight, without a transboundary environmental impact assessment and without guidance that was promised by the IAEA years ago under the London Convention.

The attention grew when the Akademik Lomonosov departed on April 28 in a convoy consisting of the unloaded nuclear barge, towed by the tug Umka and accompanied by a second tug Jasny and a rescue tug Karev. Through Danish waters, it was escorted by the Greenpeace vessel Beluga II and the passage of the Storebelt bridge – the longest bridge in Denmark – was observed by dozens of small boats filled with journalists.

Shortly after the Beluga II had made contact with the flotilla, the rescue tug Karev tried to push the Beluga out of the way, fearing direct actions against the Akademik Lomonosov. The Swedish coast guard had to intervene when the Karev went on a dangerous course towards the Beluga. Rosatom reacted with a press release in which it accused aggressive environmental activists of attacking the Akademik Lomonosov and praising the Swedish and Danish coast guards for 'protecting' the convoy.2

In reality the protection was the other way around, with attempts from the Karev and Jasny to spray the Beluga and its accompanying inflatables, even though they maintained at all times safe distance from the difficult-to-navigate combination of tug and barge.3 Greenpeace also noted that, contrary to Rosatom's claims, it maintained regular contact with Rosatom and with the Russian nuclear regulator Rostechnadzor before and during the construction of the Akademik Lomonosov, and that many other environmental NGOs severely criticise the increased introduction of nuclear technology into the Arctic region.

The cat-and-mouse game did, however, deliver beautiful pictures in front of one of Denmark's off-shore wind parks, Nysted I, that produces three times as much electricity as the Akademik Lomonosov will. Further media attention in Norway with critical comments by the environmental NGO Bellona increased the pressure.

The 144 metre long and 30 metre wide barge is to be the first in a series of floating nuclear reactors that Rosatom intends to build for the Arctic. Like the Akademik Lomonosov, these power stations are to power the further expansion of oil, gas and coal exploitation that now becomes possible because of the climate change-induced retraction of the ice. Greenpeace for that reason strongly objects when 'ecomodernist' Ben Heard echoed Rosatom's claims that the Akademik Lomonosov will be good for nuclear safety and the climate because it will replace the ageing Chernobyl type Bilibino nuclear power station and a smaller coal power plant.4

Greenpeace argues that locking the planet into decades of new fossil fuel exploitation and doing that with the introduction of a fleet of floating nuclear plants is a double whammy of risks, and that alternatives in the form of energy efficiency and renewable energy sources are amply available. It furthermore criticises Rosatom's plans to export floating nuclear plants to 15 countries including Indonesia, the Philippines and Sudan.5

Greenpeace, the Socio-Ecological Union and Ecodefense raised three demands during the voyage.5 The first relates to the lack of nuclear regulatory oversight of the project. Because of a gap in the nuclear law, the Russian nuclear regulator Rostechnadzor only has access once a year for an inspection, and that pre-announced. It has no further regulatory mandate until the barge is moored and made operational in Pevek. This is seen as a critical flaw by the organisations, and they demand immediate, full and unrestricted oversight by Rostechnadzor with peer-review from nuclear regulators from the Arctic region.

Secondly, the potential impacts of this nuclear adventure were not assessed and reviewed by other Arctic countries, as was agreed for new activities in the Arctic region by the cooperation body the Arctic Council in the form of a transboundary Arctic Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). The organisations call on Russia and the Arctic Council to carry out such an EIA before the Akademik Lomonosov will be loaded and tested in Murmansk. It has to assess all further preparation, the transport to Pevek, operation, but also further transports in 12 years' time with spent nuclear fuel on board back to Murmansk for maintenance and refuelling, final decommissioning after three or four operational periods and management of radioactive waste.

Thirdly, the organisations expressed their dismay that guidelines for floating nuclear power plants ‒ promised by the IAEA under the London Convention ‒ have still not been presented, while the construction of the Akademik Lomonosov is already finalised.

Jan Haverkamp is expert consultant on nuclear energy for WISE, Greenpeace Central and Eastern Europe and is vice-chair of Nuclear Transparency Watch.







5 reasons why a floating nuclear power plant in the Arctic is a terrible idea

A longer, referenced version of this article is online: Jan Haverkamp, 2 May 2018, '5 reasons why a floating nuclear power plant in the Arctic is a terrible idea',

1. It's a catastrophe waiting to happen: This nuclear titanic has been constructed without any independent experts checking it. This plant's flat-bottomed hull makes it particularly vulnerable to tsunamis and cyclones. A large wave can pitch the power station onto the coast. It also can't move by itself. If it comes loose from its moorings, it can't move away from a threat (an iceberg or a foreign vessel, for example) increasing the risk of a deadly incident. A collision could damage its vital functions and lead to a loss of power and damage its cooling function, and that could lead to a release of radioactive substances into the environment.

2. Imagine how hard it will be to deal with the consequences: There are so many things that could go wrong here: it could flood, or sink, or run aground. All of these scenarios could potentially lead to radioactive substances being leaked into the environment. In the case of a collapse, the core will be cooled by the surrounding seawater. While this seems like a good idea, when melting fuel rods come into with seawater, it will first lead to a seawater explosion and potential hydrogen explosions that will spread a large amount of radioactive isotopes into the atmosphere. A damaged reactor could contaminate much of the marine wildlife in the near vicinity.

3. The terrible track record of nuclear ships, icebreakers and submarines: There is a very long list of incidents and accidents with existing nuclear submarines and icebreakers. The very first nuclear icebreaker, Lenin, had a cooling accident in 1965, resulting in a partial meltdown of the core. The damaged radioactive core was dumped in the Tsivolki Bay near the Novaya Zemlya archipelago in 1967. In 1970 the reactor of a nuclear submarine (K-320) started up by itself at Krasnoye Sormovo wharf in Russia, releasing large amounts of radiation and causing hundreds of people to be exposed. An accident during fuel loading of the reactor of a nuclear submarine in Chazma in 1985 irradiated 290 workers leading to 10 casualties and 49 people injured. The list goes on.

4. A nuclear dumping ground on water: We already have more nuclear waste than we know what to do with. We don't need any more. The reactors on this plant are smaller than conventional land-based nuclear plants and will need refueling every two to three years. The nuclear waste will be stored onboard until it returns after 12 years of operation. That means that radioactive waste will be left floating around in the Arctic for years at a time. Not only is this incredibly risky, there is still nowhere secure for the spent fuel to be transported to once it's on land. No power source should create waste that takes millennia to be safe.

5. It's using nuclear power to help extract more fossil fuels: As if this floating nightmare wasn't absurd enough, the reason it's being towed to the Arctic is to help Russia dig for more fossil fuels. The main reason it exists is to provide northern oil, gas, coal and mineral extraction industries with power. And we don't need to repeat the reasons why more fossil fuels are terrible news for the climate. We just need to protect the Arctic from this potential disaster.

Russia's Rosatom: climate's new best friend

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Vladimir Slivyak ‒ co-chair of the Russian environmental NGO Ecodefense

As Russia's economic crisis continues to hit budgets, the country's state nuclear corporation is going green to raise funds on the international level. The recent St Petersburg International Economic Forum1 was widely covered by the Russian media, partly because of the eye-catching debates in which president Vladimir Putin himself took part.

In the general flood of news from the forum, the presentation given by Alexei Likhachev, the recently appointed head of Russia's state nuclear corporation2, has made few waves. But Likhachev's speech3 is significant in that it reflects a new approach to promoting Russian nuclear power plants on the international scene. Russia's nukes will now be advertised as essential to mitigating climate change. 

Rosatom is one of the most important instruments for promoting Russia's geopolitical interests in other countries.4 The issue with nuclear power is that when a client country buys a plant, it becomes dependent on fuel supplies, servicing agreements and specialists from the providing country. In almost every case, Russia stimulates interest in these technologies by providing major loans towards plant construction costs. And the list of states where Rosatom is planning to build reactors (among them Belarus, Hungary and Iran) is generally friendly to the Russian regime.

This is the first time that Rosatom has made climate change central to its advertising strategy ‒ unlike its western counterparts, who got hooked on the idea of nuclear power as "climate's best friend" almost two decades ago. There was a serious message (albeit chiefly an economic one) behind those slogans: at that point, the nuclear energy industry in the west had been in a state of stagnation for many years. Power station construction had ground to a halt almost everywhere, partly due to high costs and partly due to the unresolved issue of nuclear waste.

Increasing concerns about climate change gave the nuclear industry a lifebelt: nuclear reactors, after all, emit hardly any greenhouse gases. However, it was quickly discovered that this is only half the truth. Berlin's Öko-Institute calculated that if you look at the complete fuel cycle (from extracting uranium to storing and reprocessing radioactive waste), the emission levels of nuclear power plants were close to those of modern gas technology.5 The main reason for this is the enormously energy intensive process used to enrich uranium. Attempts to solve the economic problems of the nuclear industry at the expense of climate change have stimulated new research, which has led to an interesting conclusion ‒ the use of nuclear power is an incredibly inefficient way of lowering greenhouse gas emissions at a global level.6

Russia's public purse has been seriously hit by its economic crisis, and perhaps this is the reason behind Rosatom's present reincarnation as a "climate-friendly" body

The main limitation of nuclear power is the fact that it is used almost exclusively to generate electricity, which accounts for less than 25% of global human-made greenhouse gases.7 Doubling the production of nuclear energy would reduce the emission of these gases by a mere 6%, and then only if all the reactors were replacing coal fired power stations. And there would be no climate benefit at all if nuclear replaced a combination of renewable energy and energy conservation.8 In that situation, to produce the same 6% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions would require around 500 new reactors on top of the existing ones, as well as more new reactors to replace those being decommissioned: according to the International Energy Agency, nearly 200 existing reactors will be out of service by 2040.9

A large modern nuclear reactor costs US$5‒15 billion to build, depending on type and manufacturer. This is obviously an enormous amount of money, which doesn't solve the problem at hand. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate change (IPCC) believes that in order to avert the most catastrophic consequences of climate change, emissions need to be cut by at least a half by mid-century.10 So the question is not about new reactors at some stage in the future, but about a strict time limit on their construction. Nuclear power plants take longer to build than any other power stations (about seven to ten years on average) and some reactors, such as the Russian BN-800, the most powerful fast-breeder reactor in the world, have taken around 30 years to come online.11

The western nuclear industry's most serious attempt to raise international finance on the back of the climate change issue was made at the UN-sponsored Hague Climate Change Conference in 2000. It was not a success. Since then, nuclear experts have concentrated their efforts on lobbying national governments ‒ also, as we can see, without success: not a single country has decided to adopt nuclear power as the central element of their anti-climate change policy.

In 2017, Rosatom decided to seize the nuclear-climate flag from the weakening hands of their western colleagues. It was evidently not just a question of Russian nuclear specialists rushing to deal with the challenges of the day, nor was it an attempt to start a trend. They made a fundamental change in their international self-promotion strategy simply because their old approach to selling reactors wasn't working. Rosatom never tires of pointing out that its portfolio contains dozens of contracts for new power stations all over the world and is worth a total of 100 billion dollars.

But for some reason, reactors are actually only being built in three or four countries, and numerous agreements signed years ago remain only on paper. In the last six months alone, Vietnam pulled out of a contract12 and a court in South Africa ruled that a contract with Russia for the development of nuclear power infringed its constitution.13 And in Russia itself, many more reactors have been planned than built. The irresistible spread of Russian nuclear power plants throughout the world seems to have been put on hold, and something needs to change. So why not change your image? Anyone who refuses to purchase a Rosatom facility will become an enemy of the climate like Donald Trump.

Despite its climate change "coming out", Rosatom is unlikely to be able to sell any more reactors. It will take some time even to fulfil those contracts that are already signed and sealed. And it's highly unlikely that all the orders in its portfolio will ever be completed.14 If there is anything behind Rosatom's new advertising campaign, it is the hope that Russia will be able to access international finance for the fight against climate change. The UN and 2016 Paris Agreement15 are putting together special funds for precisely this purpose.

In other words, Rosatom will try to do what its western counterparts did back in 2000. The state corporation doesn't need to apply for finance itself ‒ the developing countries buying from it, short of cash and technology to mitigate the consequences of climate change, will do that. And perhaps Rosatom won't even need to finance the construction of nuclear power plants by borrowing from the Russian state budget, as it mostly did until now ‒ although it will have to invest some money.

Russia's public purse has been seriously hit by its economic crisis, and perhaps this is the reason behind Rosatom's present reincarnation as a "climate-friendly" body. And the fact that nuclear energy is too expensive and inefficient for its stated goals is neither here nor there; it's just a question of survival.

Reprinted from Open Democracy, 21 June 2017,



2. Vladimir Slivyak, 11 Oct 2016, 'Sergey Kirienko, from nuclear to political power',


4. Vladimir Slivyak, 11 Oct 2016, 'Sergey Kirienko, from nuclear to political power',

5. Uwe R. Fritsche, Jan 2006, 'Comparison of Greenhouse-Gas Emissions and Abatement Cost of Nuclear and Alternative Energy Options from a Life-Cycle Perspective',

6. Nuclear Monitor #806,

7. IPCC, 'Climate Change 2014: Synthesis Report: Summary for Policymakers',

8. Nuclear Monitor #806,

9. International Energy Agency, 2014, 'World Energy Outlook 2014',

10. James Bradbury and C. Forbes Tompkins, 27 Sept 2013, '5 Major Takeaways from the IPCC Report on Global Climate Change',

11. World Nuclear News, 1 Nov 2016, 'Russia's BN-800 unit enters commercial operation',

12. David Fig, 24 Nov 2017, 'Vietnam cancels nuclear reactor deal: a lesson for South Africa',

13. Joseph Cotterill, 27 April 2017, 'South African nuclear deal with Russia unlawful, court rules',

14. Reuters, 19 June 2017, 'Rosatom to sell Akkuyu project stake to Turkish conglomerate',

15. UNFCCC, 'The Paris Agreement',

Nuclear News - Nuclear Monitor #845 - 8 June 2017

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

High-level dump for South Australia declared 'dead' 

South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill has backed away from his Labor Party government's plan to import 138,000 tonnes of spent fuel and 390,000 cubic metres of intermediate-level waste as a money-making venture.

The SA Labor government promoted the project but it began to fall apart late last year. A 350-member Citizens' Jury strongly rejected the proposal. The main opposition Liberal Party then decided to oppose it; as did in a minor party ‒ the Nick Xenophon Team; and the SA Greens opposed it from the start. The project never gained majority public support despite furious spinning by the state government and the Murdoch press.

Earlier this week, the Premier said the project is "dead", there is "no foreseeable opportunity for this", and it is "not something that will be progressed by the Labor Party in Government".

The Premier's statements have been welcomed by Aboriginal Traditional Owners and communities and environmental groups.

Yankunytjatjara Native Title Aboriginal Corporation chair and No Dump Alliance spokesperson Karina Lester said: "Today's news has come as a relief and is very much welcomed by the Alliance. We are glad that Jay has opened his ears and listened to the community of South Australia who has worked hard to be heard on this matter. We know nuclear is not the answer for our lands and people – we have always said NO."

Narungga man and human rights activist Tauto Sansbury said: "We absolutely welcome Jay Weatherill's courageous decision for looking after South Australia. It's a great outcome for all involved."

Despite the victory, two sites in South Australia are still being targeted for a national nuclear waste dump by the federal government. Craig Wilkins, Conservation SA's Chief Executive, said: "We now look forward to the Premier standing up for the people in Kimba and the Flinders Ranges fighting against the federal government's push to impose radioactive waste from Sydney's Lucas Height's research reactor onto their communities," Wilkins said.

Spent fuel pool risks

A recent article in Science warns of the risks of densely-packed spent fuel pools in the US.1 The article is behind a paywall but the arguments are neatly summarized in a May 25 web-post2 by co-author Ed Lyman, senior scientist with the Union of Concerned Scientists. That post is reproduced here:

In a Policy Forum article published in this week's Science magazine, I argue, along with my co-authors Frank von Hippel and Michael Schoeppner, that the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) needs to take prompt action to reduce the alarmingly high potential for fires in spent fuel pools at U.S. nuclear plants.

The NRC allows nuclear plant owners to pack spent fuel into cooling pools at much higher densities than they were originally designed to handle. This has greatly increased the risk to the public should a large earthquake or terrorist attack breach the liner of a spent fuel pool, causing the pool to rapidly lose its cooling water. In such a scenario the spent fuel could heat up and catch fire within hours, releasing a large fraction of its highly radioactive contents. Since spent fuel pools are not enclosed in high-strength, leak-tight containment buildings, unlike the reactors themselves, much of this radioactive material could be readily discharged into the environment.

The consequences of a fire could be truly disastrous at densely packed pools, which typically contains much more cesium-137 ‒ a long-lived, extremely hazardous radioactive isotope ‒ than is present in reactor cores. My Princeton University co-authors have calculated, using sophisticated computer models, that a spent fuel pool fire at the Peach Bottom nuclear plant in Pennsylvania could heavily contaminate over 30,000 square miles with long-lived radioactivity and require the long-term relocation of nearly 20 million people, for average weather conditions.3 Depending on the wind direction and other factors, the plume could reach anywhere from Maine to Georgia. My co-authors estimate the financial impact on the American economy of such contamination could reach $2 trillion4: ten times the estimated $200 billion in damages caused by the release of radioactivity from the damaged Fukushima Daiichi plant.

The danger could be greatly reduced if plant owners thinned out the pools by transferring their older fuel to dry storage casks. But despite the relatively modest cost of this common-sense step ‒ about $50 million per reactor ‒ owners won't do it voluntarily because they care more about their bottom line.

The NRC could require plant owners to expedite transfer of spent fuel to dry casks. But it refuses to do so, basing its decision on quantitative risk analyses that, as discussed in our Science article, underestimate the benefits of such a transfer by making numerous unrealistic and faulty assumptions. For example, its estimate of the economic damages of a fire in a densely packed spent fuel pool was $125 billion; nearly 20 times lower than the independent estimate of my Princeton co-authors.

In light of our findings, our article calls on the NRC to strengthen the technical basis of its risk analysis methodology by basing it on sound science and sensible policy judgments. We are confident that such an analysis will reveal that the substantial benefits of expedited transfer would more than justify the cost.

1. Edwin Lyman, Michael Schoeppner, and Frank von Hippel, 26 May 2017, 'Nuclear safety regulation in the post-Fukushima era', Science, Vol. 356, Issue 6340, pp. 808-809,

2. Ed Lyman, 25 May 2017, 'UCS in Science: The NRC Must Act to Reduce the Dangers of Spent Fuel Pool Fires at Nuclear Plants',

3. Frank N. von Hippel and Michael Schoeppner, 2016, 'Reducing the Danger from Fires in Spent Fuel Pools', Science & Global Security,

4. Frank N. von Hippel and Michael Schoeppner, 2017, 'Economic Losses From a Fire in a Dense-Packed U.S. Spent Fuel Pool', Science & Global Security,

Russian nuclear industry spending money in the wrong places

Charles Digges summarizes1 a new Bellona report2 on Russia's nuclear industry:

The risk of a nuclear accident at the Kola Nuclear Power Plant near Murmansk and only kilometers from Norway's border with Russia, will continue to increase until it is closed – at the earliest in 2030 when it will have operated twice as long as it was designed to.

Kola is just one nuclear power plant that Russia is letting grow old and decay while it spends the bulk of its money building nuclear power plants in other countries, a new report by Bellona has found.

Independent international experts widely consider the Kola Nuclear Power Plant to be one of the world's most dangerous. It went into service over four decades ago, in 1973, and lacks the concrete reinforcements present in new reactor designs. This means that radioactivity could be released far easier in the event of an accident.

Although Russia makes an effort to maintain the plant, it is only becoming more worn. Most critically, the steel in its reactor vessels will become more fatigued as they continue to be exposed to radiation.

Should there be an accident at the plant, its severity is largely in the hands of the prevailing winds – which would likely focus the fallout on Murmansk's population of 300,000, and farther to the Barents Sea. Additionally, according to wind simulation models, the country of Finnmark in northern Norway, the coastal town of Tromsø and northern Sweden would also be hit.

Despite this, there are no near-future plans to close the plant. Instead, Russia invests in continual maintenance and upgrades to Band-Aid emerging problems. Norway itself contributes money and expertise to these efforts in the hopes of delaying an incident.

"Unfortunately, this also contributes to this old nuclear plant being in operation for longer," said Nils Bøhmer, Bellona's general manager and nuclear physicist, who is one of the report's co-authors. "This means that the Kola Nuclear Power Plant is an increasing safety risk for Norway."

One reason why Rosatom, Russia's state nuclear corporation, doesn't prioritize phasing out facilities like Kola is because it is spending money on building new nuclear plants in other countries. "They do this to consolidate their position internationally – the nuclear facilities act as political bridges," said Bøhmer.

Bellona's new report described these conditions for plants Russia is building in Turkey, Hungary, India, Bangladesh, Belarus, Iran, Finland and China. When these plants are up and running, Rosatom will deliver their fuel and, later, deal with their waste. They can also be used for political leverage."

Meanwhile the Kola Nuclear Power Plant continues to operate even though the Murmansk region routinely has surplus energy, particularly from safer sources like hydroelectric, wind and other renewable sources.

1. Charles Digges, 31 May 2017, 'Russian nuclear industry is spending its money in the wrong places',

2. Bellona Foundation, May 2017, 'Russian nuclear power – 2017',

Nuclear Europe roundup

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Jan Haverkamp

Czech Republic – Dukovany and Temelín

German environmentalists have started a petition to demand their government to take action on faulty welding work in the first reactor of the Temelín nuclear power station in the south of the Czech Republic. Over 75,000 signatures will be handed over before summer to environment minister Hendricks. More information is posted at

During the European Nuclear Energy Forum (ENEF) in Prague on 23 May, Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka declared that he saw no other way for the country's energy mix other than nuclear power. He criticised attempts to diminish its role, hinting at criticism from neighbouring Austria and Germany about Czech plans to expand its nuclear fleet with new reactors in Dukovany and Temelín. He expected the environmental impact assessment for new capacity in Dukovany to be finalised in 2018.

Slovakia – Mochovce 3,4 and New Bohunice

The Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico announced during the same ENEF meeting that Slovakia will finalise the Mochovce 3,4 project no matter what. According to Euractiv on 26 May, he said that Slovakia will always strive for the further development of nuclear energy: "Our government will never abandon this policy and will always fight for the right to choose the way for the production of energy in the future." The Slovak Industry Minister Peter Žiga said at the same event that although the plan for new reactors at the Jaslovské Bohunice site is technically prepared, current economic conditions are not favourable: "We are waiting for better times, when the prices of electricity at the wholesale market will be a bit higher."

In the run-up to this year's Chernobyl anniversary, Global2000, the Austrian member of Friends of the Earth, found elevated tritium levels near the Mochovce nuclear power station in Slovakia. In the Malé Kozmálovce reservoir they found 1347 Bq/l, around 13 times higher than the drinking water limit.

Hungary – Paks II

According to sources, the Convention on Nuclear Safety (CNS) 7th Review Conference discussed the recent law changes in Hungary that could infringe on the independence of the nuclear regulator HAEA. Also the European Commission continued communication with Hungary on the issue. A final result of its inquiry is expected in the coming months.

The Hungarian government appointed former Paks director and mayor of the city of Paks János Süli as a special minister without portfolio for the Paks II project. Rosatom opened a tender procedure for the turbine building and related accessories.

EnergiaKlub and Greenpeace filed a court appeal on 24 May against the approval of the environmental license for Paks II.

Finland – Olkiluoto 3, Hanhikivi

The owner of the Olkiluoto 3 project, TVO, announced it will drop its compensation claims in the international arbitration court against Areva. This in an attempt to ensure that the Olkiluoto 3 reactor will go into a test phase in the coming year.

The town of Helsinki decided to try to get out of Fennovoima, the company behind the Hanhikivi project. This will not be easy, though, because it is only is a minority shareholder in Vantaan Energia, the company over which it owns shares in Fennovoima.

Nuclear regulator STUK announced recently that it will not be able to process the Fennovoima documentation before the end of 2018. Finland is facing parliamentary elections in April 2018.

Russia – the floating reactors of the "Akademik Lomonosov"

Greenpeace Russia made an assessment of the nuclear regulatory oversight over the construction of a floating nuclear power station in the centre of St. Petersburg, 3.5 km from the Hermitage. It came to the conclusion that there is only one annual pre-announced inspection visit by the Russian nuclear regulator Rostechnadzor. It calls for the same regulatory oversight of the entire project, including construction and transport, as other Russian nuclear power stations. A proposal along those lines from the Yablokov fraction in the town's parliament environmental committee was approved on 1 June and has to be confirmed later this month in a plenary session.

Spain – Santa Maria de Garoña, Almarez

During a seminar in the European Parliament, Spanish and Portuguese Parliament members asked that attention be given to the upcoming life-time extension of the Almarez nuclear power plant in Spain, as well as for the plans to restart Santa Maria de Garoña. They demanded public participation before the final decisions for these life-time extensions.

The restart of Santa Maria de Garoña by regulator CNS been conditional on upgrade investments. While 50% owner Iberdrola already said it wanted to refrain from re-opening the reactor, Endesa, the owner of the other 50%, prefers to wait for the decision of the Ministry of Energy.

Initially, the submission period for a request for life-time extension of the Almarez nuclear reactor would run out on 7 June. However, the Ministry of Energy with the support of CNS changed the procedure so that it now still has two years to do so.

Belgium – Tihange and Doel

Preparations for a human chain from Tihange (Belgium), over Maastricht (Netherlands) to Aachen (Germany) on 25 June over 90 km are in full swing. The event is receiving support from German and Dutch municipalities most affected by the power station, as well as from a broad range of people from culture and media, including the annual Dutch PinkPop rock festival. More information:

Belarus – Astravets

During the European Nuclear Energy Forum, 22 May in Prague, Lithuanian vice-minister for the environment Martynas Norbutas heavily criticised the Astravets project, 20 km from the border with Lithuania. He explained among others that the site choice happened without being informed by an environmental impact assessment, and based on population densities in Belarus but excluding Lithuania.

The Lithuanian – Belarussian tensions are expected to influence the Meeting of Parties of the Espoo Convention that takes place June 13‒16 in the Belarussian capital Minsk.

Jan Haverkamp is expert consultant on nuclear energy and energy policy for WISE, Greenpeace Central and Eastern Europe, Greenpeace Switzerland and vice-chair of Nuclear Transparency Watch.

Nuclear Europe roundup

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Jan Haverkamp ‒ WISE Netherlands campaigner on safety and lifetime extension issues for European reactors.

Hungary – Paks II

The Hungarian nuclear regulator issued the site approval for the Paks II nuclear power plant. The preliminary approval of the environmental permit has been sent to some foreign participants in the EIA procedure (e.g. the organisation Calla in the Czech Republic and Terra Mileniul III in Romania) but only in Hungarian. The responsible authority claims no translation is required under Hungarian law. A court case from Hungarian NGOs, among others Energia Klub and Greenpeace Hungary, against the approval of the environmental permit is pending.

The Hungarian government passed law changes in December 2016, including the possibility for the government, the de facto operator of the Paks II project, which is run from the Prime Minister's office, to divert per decree from licensing conditions for the construction of new nuclear capacity and nuclear waste management. The European Commission is currently investigating this under the allegation of breach of the independence of the nuclear regulator as defined under the Euratom Nuclear Safety Directive. Also, the 7th Review Conference of the Convention on Nuclear Safety at the IAEA in Vienna is discussing the matter.

Finland – Hanhikivi

The Finnish nuclear regulator STUK is currently scrutinising the construction documentation for the Hanhikivi nuclear project of the Finnish-Russian conglomerate Fennovoima. STUK criticised Fennovoima, constructor Rosatom and sub-contractors for having too little capacity to deliver the necessary documentation.

Russia – the floating reactors of the "Akademik Lomonosov"

Rosatom is preparing to load two 35 MW power reactors on board the non-propelled barge "Akademik Lomonosov", which is moored at the Baltic Shipyard in the centre of St. Petersburg, 3.5 km from the Hermitage and 2.5 km from the St. Isaac Cathedral.

Greenpeace Russia, the Yablokov Party and Greenpeace Nordic are urging for a transboundary environmental impact assessment to be made before loading, testing and transport of the barge to its final destination in Chukotka. The transport will lead the barge through the exclusive economic zones and/or territorial waters of most countries around the Baltic Sea.

Slovakia – Mochovce 3,4

The shareholders of Slovenské elektrarne ‒ the Slovak state, Italian utility ENEL and the Czech energy holding EPH ‒ have officially increased the budget for the construction of Mochovce 3,4 with €800 million during their Annual General Meeting in late March 2017. Mochovce 3,4 consists of two Rosatom designed VVER440/213 reactors of the second generation that are not equipped with a secondary containment. The total budget is now €5.4 billion or €5620/kWe capacity, which is comparable to the construction costs of the French designed EPR reactors in Olkiluoto, Finland and Flamanville, France. It is unclear who has to finance these extra costs.

Spain – Santa Maria de Garoña

The Spanish government would like to have the EU's oldest nuclear reactor, the Fukushima type GE Mark 1 reactor at Santa Maria de Garoña, restarted. The reactor was shut down in 2015, when its operator Nuclenor (Endesa / ENEL and Iberdrola) did not see an economic future any longer after necessary upgrades. Political pressure on Nuclenor from the side of the Spanish conservative government has been mounting, however.

On the other side, resistance against a restart in the neighbouring Basque Country is growing. During a session of the Basque Parliament on 5 April 2017, legal steps, among others against the lack of public participation, environmental considerations and comparison with viable alternatives, were prepared with parliament-wide support.

Iberdrola has already made clear that it would rather not restart the aging reactor. Endesa and its owner ENEL have yet to react.

Belgium – Tihange and Doel

On 11 March, around 1,000 people demonstrated in Antwerp against the life-time extension of the Doel 1 and 2 and Tihange 1 reactors, for closure of the crack-ridden Doel 3 and Tihange 2 reactors, and phase-out of the remaining two reactors Doel 4 and Tihange 3 in 2025.

The lack of public participation and environmental impact assessment for the life-time extension of Doel 1,2 and Tihange 1 is currently pending before the Council of State as well as civil court on complaints from Greenpeace. The city of Aachen (Germany) and the State of North Rhine – Westphalia (Germany) have started legal proceedings in Belgium against the operation of Doel 3 and Tihange 2.

On 25 June, a human chain from Tihange to Aachen is to follow the protests from March 11.

Belarus – Astravetz

The government of Lithuania has stepped up its attempts to prevent the construction of the Belarussian-Russian Astravetz nuclear power station just 40 km from the Lithuanian capital Vilnius. Belarus has promised to submit the Astravetz project to a nuclear stress test under supervision of the European Commission and the European Nuclear Safety Regulators Group (ENSREG), in the framework of the European post-Fukushima nuclear stress tests. The watchdog group Nuclear Transparency Watch has asked the European Commission to also facilitate input from civil society in that exercise, as happened during the European stress tests and similar stress tests with European support in Taiwan.

Netherlands – Borssele

The Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee is receiving answers on its last question regarding the lack of proper public participation concerning environmental issues in the decisions leading to the 20-year life-time extension of the Borssele nuclear reactor in 2013. The Committee is expected to finalise its findings in April and submit them to the Meeting of Parties of the Aarhus Convention in September.

In the meantime, the owner of Borssele, EPZ, has sold its grid distribution and water businesses for €900 million. It now has to decide whether this one-off income will be used to operate Borssele with a loss until possibly improved electricity prices might turn a profit in the early 2020s, or to use it to close down the aging reactor.

Decommissioning costs are budgeted at €500 million, but the decommissioning fund currently faces a shortage of over €200 million.

The largest two parties coming out of the Dutch parliamentarian elections in March 2017, VVD and PVV, want to continue operation of Borssele. Potential government candidates D66 and GroenLinks want it closed. The other negotiating party, the christian-democrat CDA, did not mention Borssele in its election programme, whereas another potential government coalition candidate, the Christian Union (CU), would like to see closure.

Czech Republic – Dukovany and Temelín

The Dukovany nuclear power station is gradually receiving permission for 20 years' life-time extension. Austrian NGOs including among others Global2000, ÖkoBüro Wien and the ÖkoInstitut in Vienna have started procedures under the Espoo and Aarhus Conventions against the lack of transboundary EIA with public participation.

A conference of anti-nuclear groups in Germany and the Czech Republic in Munich in March 2017 continued investigations into alleged problems during primary circuit welding work in the Temelín unit 1 in 1993. Greens Fichtelgebirge organiser Brigitte Artmann announced the next steps to allow access for German experts to vital documentation and stated: "As long as we are alive and this issue has not been resolved, it is not closed."

UK – Hinkley Point C, Wylfa and Moorside

The Espoo Convention Implementation Committee found the UK in non-compliance with the Espoo Convention for not notifying other countries of its intention to build the Hinkley Point C nuclear reactors. The UK reacted with a notification to all Espoo Convention parties, and currently, at least the Netherlands, Norway and Germany asked for a transboundary EIA.

The Netherlands and Austria also informed WISE they had been notified by the UK of the intention to build new nuclear capacity at Wylfa in Wales and are awaiting the start of a transboundary EIA procedure. With this, legal complaints from the Friends of the Irish Environment, An Taisce (the Irish Trust), the German member of the Bundestag Greens Sylvia Kötting-Uhl and German citizen Brigitte Artmann, have been successful. The Espoo Implementation Committee even went a step further by calling on the UK to halt construction work at Hinkley Point C until the transboundary EIA has been finalised. Construction work at Hinkley Point has, however, continued with the pouring of the first safety-relevant concrete.

Finland – Olkiluoto 1,2

The aging reactors 1 and 2 at Olkiluoto have received a life-time extension without public participation or an EIA during the decision-making procedures. NGOs are considering legal options.

Espoo Convention – Meeting of Parties

During the Espoo Convention Meeting of Parties 13‒16 May 2017 in Minsk, Belarus, nuclear issues will receive prominent attention. Lithuania and Belarus are involved in an ingrained battle over the quality of the Astravetz EIA (see above). The NGO CEE Bankwatch is organising a side-event to highlight the lack of environmental impact assessment before decisions on life-time extension of nuclear projects in Ukraine, Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Czech Republic and elsewhere. A special commission is to come with best practices around nuclear decisions, though draft documents do not address life-time extensions.

Russia and its nuclear industry in 2016

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Vladimir Slivyak ‒ Co-chair of Ecodefense

Although many important events related to the Russian industry and anti-nuclear movement happened in 2016, there was not much publicity. Probably the main reason was state pressure on both the media and public movements – pressure that has escalated for three years in a row. Back in 2014, the Russian government introduced a new version of the so-called "law on foreign agents", the main instrument to put heavy pressure on human rights and environmental movements.

The first environmental group labeled as a foreign agent was Ecodefense for the campaign "to stop construction of the Baltic nuclear power plant near Kaliningrad", according to the Ministry of Justice. This campaign was going on since 2009 until the Russian government halted construction of the plant in 2013. Although the Russian nuclear industry was talking about possible restart of this project in three years' time, it remained frozen in 2016. Ecodefense faced several new court cases based on the "foreign agent law". However, the organization managed to survived in 2016, thanks to the Public Verdict Foundation, a human rights group that sent lawyers to defend Ecodefense in court.

During 2016, dozens of non-governmental groups found themselves on the list of a foreign agents, including several organizations criticizing the nuclear power industry. Some of the groups, including "Green World" in Sankt-Petersburg region, declared they are closing down. Another group – Foundation for Nature, in the city of Chelyabinsk – asked the local court to close it down, which happened in late 2016. In the region of Krasnoyarsk, Siberia (where Rosatom is planning to build a geologic repository for spent nuclear fuel), local activist and journalist Fyodor Maryasov faced a criminal case against him for criticizing nuclear plans.

2017 was declared a "year of environment" by the Russian government, which may be a signal for further repression against environmental groups. There is a general belief among environmentalists that pressure on anti-nuclear activists is good for Rosatom, which is trying to sell as many nuclear reactors as possible worldwide. Criticism of nuclear technology at home may negatively affect Rosatom's export plans.

2016 wasn't very good in this regard with the decisions approved in Vietnam and South Africa. The Vietnamese government said it will not build two Russian reactors in the near future as was agreed earlier with Rosatom. The main reason was the availability of cheaper alternatives to nuclear power. South Africa said it will postpone its nuclear program to the late 2030s. The Russian and South African governments agreed to a large-scale nuclear program in 2014 which included 9.6 GW of new nuclear capacity to be built over a decade. Additionally, a uranium enrichment plant, a research reactor and production of some reactor components were under discussion.

Rosatom's so-called "portfolio" of new reactor orders, worth of around US$120 billion, has been a matter of pride for the state utility for a long time. However critics question how many binding vs. non-binding agreements were included under this number. There is no official estimate in this regard. According to an Ecodefense estimate, binding contracts in this portfolio account for up to 20%.

Radioactive wastes

Management of radioactive wastes was another important direction of activity for Rosatom in 2016. There is up to 500 million tons of wastes stored at various sites across Russia requiring the attention of the corporation. Several public hearings were conducted during the year, including in closed towns such as Ozyorsk and Novouralsk. Ozyorsk is infamous for its nuclear reprocessing facility "Mayak", the site of the largest pre-Chernobyl nuclear accident with the explosion of a tank of high-level radwaste in 1957. Novouralsk is home to a uranium enrichment facility where the European company Urenco was exporting its toxic uranium tails in the 1990s and 2000s.

Closed towns are the legacy of the Soviet nuclear program, places behind barbed wire with military facilities inside. Organizing dumping sites for radioactive wastes in such places, Rosatom excludes the citizens of nearby towns and villages from the process of decision making. People from outside usually can't get inside those closed towns without special permission, which is almost impossible to obtain. By refusing the right to participate in public hearings for people from outside areas, Rosatom creates the ground for future social conflicts as local citizens are usually not willing to live next to a nuclear dump site.

Other important things that deserve to be mentioned include:

  • The accidental dropping of a reactor vessel during transportation to the construction site of a nuclear plant in Ostrovets, Belarus. It's rumored that the vessel will be replaced, and the current one will be used somewhere else.
  • An accident at a VVER-1200 reactor shortly after start-up. This is first unit of that type in operation, and Rosatom is keen to sell them worldwide.
  • At the same Novovoronezh nuclear plant, 500 km south of Moscow, an old VVER-400 reactor was disconnected from the grid forever. Rosatom announced it will make it the example of good decommissioning and then go with this experience for the world market. There are two VVER reactors at this plant shut down and disconnected from the grid in 1984 and 1990. None of them have been decommissioned so far.

Concluding on 2016 events, propaganda by the nuclear industry in Russian media was similar to previous years ‒ great worldwide expansion, radwaste management progressing, "constructive dialogue" with communities going well. The reality is however different. Old reactors are still not decommissioned, radwaste not isolated, safety of new reactors under question, worldwide expansion slowing down. And there is widespread repression against activists, almost allowing the nuclear industry to control criticism. There are even a few environmental groups helping Rosatom with "constructive dialogue" and earning various benefits for that help. No criticism – no problem.

But every house of cards will fall apart, sooner or later. With Russia descending into a deeper and deeper financial crisis, sooner more likely than later.

Nukes at the UN climate conference in Morocco

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Vladimir Slivyak ‒ co-chair of Ecodefence

The United Nations' COP22 climate conference finished in Marrakech, Morocco last week and there were quite alarming signs with a strong push by the Russian delegation and others to promote nuclear power.

The Russians were quiet at the Moroccan negotiations until Thursday, November 17. Then two events happened on same day. First, the deputy director of Rosatom, Kirill Komarov, and the head of the World Nuclear Association, Agneta Rising, held a joint press conference where they talked mostly about the Russian nuclear experience.1 They claimed that nuclear power is already saving the climate and has "postponed climate catastrophe for two years". Rising was nearly screaming into the microphone, calling on all world governments to immediately follow Russia and develop nuclear power right now. They promoted the World Nuclear Association's goal of tripling global nuclear power capacity such that it generates 25% of electricity by 2050.2

The press conference was organized in a truly Russian way ‒ very short, three questions allowed and it looked like the three people allowed to ask a question were brought there by Rosatom itself. Then, unexpectedly, UN police showed up and escorted Komarov to the exit. I don't think I've ever seen UN police at a press conference at a UN climate conference before.

Later on November 17, Russia organized a national side-event at COP22 which was formally about Russian strategy for low-carbon development and included Rosatom, an aluminum industry representative and a nanotechnology agency, as well as governmental officials. A lot of funny things were said, but Rosatom was the main player. Rosatom's video showed lots of people hugging each other, smiling and laughing in various countries of the world, as well as a nuclear ice-breaker and a sign: "Rosatom. Energy and More".

Rosatom's Komarov was again peddling falsehoods at the side-event, including things like Russia having achieved a closed nuclear fuel cycle (not true, spent fuel is mostly in storage with no chance for reprocessing), Russia is building over 70 reactors worldwide right now (not true, about 10% of that figure actually) and lots of other stuff. Any country in the world can order Russian reactors, he said (though few can afford to pay for them and Russia can't afford to build them). A few questions were allowed. A lot of people wanted to ask something from Rosatom but were ignored by the chairman who wanted to close down the side-event as soon as possible. In the end he just said we cannot continue because we have food and drinks waiting for us outside. The event was in Russian and the translation was quite poor.

After all this, we (five Russians were at COP22 this time, with some Ukrainians supporting us) went to mobilize the environmental community, in particular the Climate Action Network (CAN). As a result, Russia was given CAN's "Fossil of the Day" anti-award on November 17, specifically for promoting nuclear. The award citation read: "The third Fossil of the Day award goes to Russia for promoting nuclear power as a feasible solution to climate change. We all know that this outdated and risky technology is too slow and expensive to contribute to climate efforts ‒ and if deployed it will steal away resources needed to develop renewables. Not to mention the fact that nuclear is not even a zero-emissions technology ‒ it produces massive amounts of greenhouse gases during the uranium enrichment. Then, of course, there is the question of safety. The Russian government really need to take a look at the long-term, widespread consequences of the Fukushima and Chernobyl, for a start."3

The following day, Russia was given "Collosal Fossil" for being the worst offender throughout the COP22 conference and for its poor energy and climate policies. The award citation read: "This year's Colossal Fossil Award goes to Russia for peddling nonsense and generally being a massive drag on ambition. Throughout the UN climate change negotiations in Marrakech, Russia has blindly lobbied for nuclear power deployment, continued to abstain from ratifying the Paris Agreement, and said that they do not see phasing out fossil fuels as an element of their plan to reduce dangerous emissions."4

COP22 may be the beginning of a serious attempt to promote nuclear by Russia jointly with the World Nuclear Association and maybe others. They probably want to recruit new customers among developing countries, even if they don't succeed in securing UN climate funds to subsidize those projects. We have to mobilize for the next COP and other UN climate meetings to put pressure on the Russian delegation.

Industry front groups were noisy at the COP21 conference in Paris last December5, and some of them were at Marrakech. 'Nuclear for Climate' was one of the front groups promoting nuclear power at both COP21 and COP22.6 'Nuclear for Climate' calls itself a "grassroots organization" but it is no such thing; it is a front group for more than 140 nuclear societies around the world.


1. World Nuclear News, 18 Nov 2016, 'Nuclear vital to challenge of climate change',

2. 4 May 2016, 'Uranium on the rocks; nuclear power PR blunders', Nuclear Monitor #823,



5. 17 Dec 2015, 'COP that: nuclear lobbyists on the offensive', Nuclear Monitor #816,


Russian government appoints new head of Rosatom

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Vladimir Slivyak ‒ deputy chair of Ecodefence

After 10 years as head of Rosatom, Sergey Kirienko is now deputy head of Russia's Presidential Administration. What will he bring to the job?

In 2005, when Kirienko was put in charge of Russia's Federal Atomic Energy Agency (renamed Rosatom in 2007), he'd never had any experience of the nuclear power sector.

Later to make headlines as Russia's youngest prime minister, Kirienko's political career began in 1997, when he became deputy minister of fuel and energy. In 1998, he served as prime minister under Boris Yeltsin for several months before resigning over the financial crisis that led to the devaluing of the rouble and Russia defaulting on its debts. Now Kirienko is once again at the hub of power, looking after internal political matters.

Kirienko's successor at Rosatom is Alexei Likhachev, Russia's first deputy minister of economic development since 2010. Likhachev would seem to be a natural choice for the job ‒ he was born in Arzamas-16, now Sarov, the Russian centre for nuclear research and still a closed city.

Likhachev has known Kirienko for many years and was probably recommended by him. His work at the ministry of economic development centred on international relations, and he took part in negotiations on Russia's membership of the World Trade Organisation in 2010 ‒ useful experience at a time when building nuclear power plants in other countries is Rosatom's main priority.

Information and secrecy

News of these two appointments came out rather oddly. Prior to September 24, when RBC broke the story of Kirienko's appointment, there had been no rumours at all about Kirienko's move, and another two weeks passed before he was officially given his new job.

During that time speculation mounted about his successor at Rosatom, and it was not a question of specific names, but of where he or she might come from ‒ the FSB, the nuclear industry, the presidential administration. But all these rumours turned out to be groundless.

This fact illustrates the effectiveness of Kirienko's PR team: all of Rosatom's information channels are hermetically sealed, and if any important news appears, it is only by the grace of the residents of the agency's enormous headquarters building on Moscow's Bolshaya Ordynka street. There has been the odd information leak, but usually involving foreign media, which Rosatom has little control over.

The way Kirienko's appointment has developed as a story demonstrates the level of openness, or rather lack of it, which Kirienko's team has created in recent years. If a major accident had occurred at a nuclear power plant in Russia during Kirienko's time at Rosatom, it is unlikely that anyone would have heard about it for some time. Instead, there would have been a scenario reminiscent of 1986, when the Soviet government tried to hush up the scale of the Chernobyl disaster for as long as possible.

This lack of transparency is dangerous precisely because in the case of another nuclear accident, it could be a matter of life and death. And this is not a question of official secrets or nuclear weapons. Rosatom is funded by Russia's taxpayers and has to be accountable to them.

Paper power plants

Kirienko's legacy at Rosatom is a separate issue. Given this recent appointment, he is, it seems, highly regarded by the Kremlin.

There may have been two to three times fewer nuclear power plants built on his watch than were planned. There may have been plenty of corruption scandals involving the arrest of senior staff, including Kirienko's deputies, on embezzlement charges. But the corporation's "portfolio" for power plants to be built abroad is worth an astronomical US$100 billion (€91bn). And for the Kremlin, which periodically uses energy supply threats to put pressure on countries it is displeased with, nuclear power is not just a question of prestige and money.

To assess Kirienko's effectiveness as a manager, however, we need to look inside Rosatom's commission portfolio. These "orders" are not contracts specifying delivery dates, costs and a clear timescale for loan repayments (in most cases the money lent by Russia for power plant construction comes with a repayment date). Eighty to ninety per cent of these reported arrangements are agreements in principle that are vague on details, and in the overwhelming majority of cases the contracts aren't worth the paper they're printed on.

Russian media frequently give the impression that Rosatom is building reactors all over the world. It is true that there have been orders from over 20 countries, but they are actually being built in only three places ‒ China, India and Belarus. And in the case of the first two, international cooperation began long before Kirienko joined the nuclear energy sector.

So it is clear that Kirienko's team has been excellent at drawing up and signing non-binding nuclear agreements, and providing an information blockade for the industry. Actually building nuclear plants seems to be beyond them.

The situation in Russia itself is quite different. It has 35 working reactors, which supply around 18% of its energy needs.

Two thirds of these reactors are pretty old and will need to be prepared for decommissioning in the near future. There is as yet no tried and tested technology for doing this, and decommissioning and dismantling will be costly.

This will very probably be a key issue for Likhachev, who faces an unenviable task if he plans to stay at Rosatom for any length of time. He is unlikely to achieve the economic indicators achieved by his predecessor. But Kirienko had unlimited access to public funds, whereas Likhachev may need to start decommissioning reactors, which not only doesn't bring in any money, but involves astronomical costs.

With Russia's "crisis" in full swing, Likhachev can only dream of getting the same generous funding as Kirienko.

Making friends with the environmentalists (for a while)

But this isn't Kirienko's only legacy. His PR team worked not only with Russia's journalists, but environmental organizations, too. For Rosatom, criticism of nuclear energy on environmental grounds is a serious risk factor, especially on the international level. When Rosatom was in the process of being set up, the agency's head would send deputations to us at Ecodefence to ask for our "help", promising they would find a way to "thank us". Our organization refused, but there were those that didn't.

These organizations were paid pretty well for their "loyalty". Rosatom's public council would regularly donate cash to NGOs. The list of groups receiving financial help was initially published on a special website, until the council decided not to give out any information about its beneficiaries. Rosatom's most valuable and loyal partners were even awarded medals.

These organizations are evidently invisible to Russia's ministry of justice, which has been trying to force Russian NGOs to register as "foreign agents" for over two years now. Almost every group that has ever criticised the corporation has been added to the register.

It is symbolic, for instance, that my organisation Ecodefence was the first environmental organization to be registered as a "foreign agent". We were officially accused by the justice ministry of "campaigning against the construction of the Baltic Nuclear Power Plant" in Kaliningrad. Work on this new plant began in 2009, but was put on ice in 2013, a month after activists published letters from several European banks refusing to finance the project.

Russian media tell us that Kirienko and his PR team are off to the Kremlin to prepare Putin's next election campaign. Looking at Kirienko's 11 years as head of Russia's nuclear power industry, we can say that in terms of spending and achievements on paper, Rosatom's former head has few equals. Kirienko's team are experts at working with the media, putting pressure on dissenters and forging loyalty.

More information: 'Russia's Ecodefense ignores Russian foreign agent law, refuses to pay fines',

Russia is planning new reactors but prospects are murky

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Vladimir Slivyak ‒ WISE-Russia, Ecodefense

The Russian government published a new decree on 1 August 2016 outlining plans to build various energy facilities over the next 14 years. The new plan includes mostly fossil fuel plants, but also renewable and nuclear facilities along with final storage facilities for radioactive waste and spent nuclear fuel. The plan is not final – the section on new nuclear reactors says the timing and type of new reactors can be changed.

Russian authorities like to announce big plans but those plans never get implemented the way they were originally announced. In 2008, the Russian government approved the 'General Layout Plan for Siting Power Generation Facilities for the period until 2020', which included 13.2 gigawatts (GW) of new nuclear capacity over the next five years. By March 2010, this goal had been downscaled to just 5.2 GW. In July 2012, Russia's overall nuclear power development target for 2020 – 44 GW – was reduced to 30.5 GW. Currently, Russia has 35 reactors with a capacity of 26 GW.

The new plan includes 11 new reactors to be built by 2030. This figure doesn't include several reactors already under construction ‒ the second Leningrad plant (2 units), second Novovoronezh plant (2 units), Rostov plant (1 unit), and the floating nuclear plant Lomonosov. The latest deadline for completion of the floating nuclear plant is 2019. The second Leningrad and second Novovoronezh plants are both close to completion. Commercial start-up of the second Leningrad plant has been delayed until 2018 as there is no growing demand for electricity due to economic crisis.

The new 2030 plan also doesn't include the second Kursk nuclear plant, where construction was licensed on June 2, 2016. And it doesn't include the nuclear plant near Kaliningrad, where construction was frozen in mid-2013. While Rosatom officials repeatedly confirmed that construction of the Kaliningrad plant was indefinitely suspended, they listed it as under active construction in various documents over the past three years, hoping to attract European investment and then to restart construction. The Kaliningrad nuclear plant was originally designed to export all of its electricity to European neighbors. For internal energy supply of Kaliningrad region, wind, gas and coal plants are proposed in the new governmental plan.

All of the 11 proposed new reactors belong to new designs. Three breeders: BREST-300 near Tomsk in Siberia, and two units of BN-1200 design near Ekaterinburg and Chelyabinsk, near the Ural mountains. For a long time, the idea of a nuclear plant near Chelyabinsk was thought to be dead. The local population voted against it in a local referendum over 25 years ago. In the past, Rosatom repeatedly tried to restart this project but unsuccessfully. Here we are witnessing another attempt.

In 2014, it was announced that the first BN-1200 fast reactor would be completed by 2025. But the fast breeder program has already been delayed, and construction of new reactors under this program hasn't started yet.

The remaining eight new reactors belong to VVER-TOI design (7) and VVER-600 (1). The VVER-TOI was first presented in 2010, but there is not a single reactor of this design under construction or in operation in Russia or anywhere in the world.

A VVER-TOI nuclear power plant ‒ also referred to as AES-2010 or NPP-2010 ‒ is a two-unit plant with VVER-1300/510 pressurized water reactors. The plant's estimated operating life is 60 years and power output is 1.26 GW per reactor. The designers of the VVER-TOI project claim it includes a combination of passive and active safety systems which makes the plant safer compared to previous designs. However, according to former Russian deputy Minister of Atomic Energy, Bulat Nigmatulin, passive safety systems are not fully passive and still require automatic system response. With concern over their effectiveness, improvement in this field would make both construction and operation more expensive.

The accident control facility of the VVER-TOI project includes a corium trap. It is expected that this trap will capture the molten core material (corium) of the reactor in case of a nuclear meltdown. But Nigmatulin points to a discussion among reactor experts concerning the risk of the trap itself melting if the corium reacts with the material the trap is made of, and hydrogen being released.

VVER-TOI reactors are proposed to be built near the city of Nizhny Novgorod, where a previous attempt to build nuclear reactors met with mass protests which stopped construction. More such units may be built near the cities of Smolensk, Kostroma and in Tatarstan republic. A previous attempt to build a reactor in Tatarstan was cancelled about 25 years ago after mass protests. In Kostroma, a local referendum was held in 1997 which stopped construction.

A VVER-600 reactor is under consideration for Kola peninsula, close to the border with Norway. The existing Kola nuclear plant has four VVER-440 reactors, two of them belonging to the first generation of Soviet designs (the World Nuclear Association notes that the EU has paid to prematurely shut down reactors of this design in countries outside Russia). Kola reactors, some of the oldest in Russia, will be partly replaced by the proposed new VVER-600 unit.

While Russian plans looks big on paper, it is unlikely that this program will be implemented. It's very likely that the current economic crisis, the deepest since the USSR collapsed, will axe most of the new reactors.

Closed Siberian nuclear city prepares to build radwaste repository

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Bellona Foundation

Residents of the closed Russian nuclear city of Zheleznogorsk, near the Siberia city of Krasnoyarsk, have approved at a July 30 public environmental hearing a project to construct an underground research laboratory, which will study the possibility of constructing a long term subterranean radioactive waste repository.

However, some environmentalists have raise concerns that access to information about the facility, which was only viewable in paper form at the Zheleznogorsk city administration, was intentionally restricted by Russia's state nuclear corporation, Rosatom, to avoid criticism of the project. Because of Zheleznogorsk’s militarily closed status, special passes are required to visit the city and thus to view the information. Others claimed that only organizations were invited that confirm the position of the Mining and Chemical Combine. Still others are unconvinced by the safety of the proposed repository, saying that safety assurances are hyped propaganda from Russia’s nuclear industry.

The laboratory, near the Siberia city of Krasnoyarsk will be built in the area’s Yeniseisky District and will conduct a minimum of nine years of study of mountainous and geological layers in accord with international recommendations and on the basis of experience from other similar international laboratories attempting to perfect the fragile science of safely storing radioactive waste for dozens if not hundreds of thousands of years underground.

Lab before repository
The aim of the years of study, which will be conducted at the exact underground depth of the possible future repository, is to confirm the fitness of the local geology for safe storage of longlived high- and medium-level radioactive waste, and the development of technology to handle waste. This will encompass the development of building chambers and shafts for radioactive waste storage, as well as the creation of engineering barriers against radiation. Comprehensive studies of the isolating characteristics of engineering barriers will be carried out, as well as studies on the thermodynamics of the chambers and shafts and geological layers.

The studies will form the backbone of a technical report that will be submitted for expert analysis by the State Com-mission on Useful Mineral Supplies, which will form the basis for whether the project can enter its first phase of construction of permanently isolating facilities, or if further study is required. No decision on whether the repository can be put to use can be taken until the underground laboratory has reasonably proved that the repository will be safe. The mining and chemical combine itself already houses wet storage for spent nuclear fuel, and has also launched a dry storage facility, which this year received its first load of spent RBMK reactor fuel.

Limited access to EIS
Public hearings are a necessary com-ponent of a State Environmental Impact Study of planned economic or other activities. The aim of the Environmental Impact Study is to avert or minimize negative environmental, societal, and economic consequences. According to the Zheleznogorsk Mining and Chemical Combine, a mere 50 people from the 100,000 strong region participated in reviewing the environmental impact report before the hearing, including a number of official inquiries from authorities.

Information about the hearing was posted, as required by law, 30 days before it took place in official media. The State Environmental Impact Study was accessible for review, and preparations of remarks and suggestions of interested parties were addressed in the public reception of the Zheleznogorsk city administration, which was staffed by consultants who answered questions from citizens on the voluminous technical text and who noted their opinions on the planned facility.

Environmental groups from Krasnoyarsk and Zheleznogorsk, representatives of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Ecology, scientists and specialists in various fields were invited to attend Monday’s hearing.

But there were complaints that access to the impact study was extremely limited. "It was only possible to view the environmental impact study material by traveling personally to Zheleznogorsk,” said Valery Komissarov, chief engineer of the isotope and chemical factory of the Zheleznogorsk Mining and Chemical Combine. “Paper and electronic copies were forbidden, three copies of the document were available in the public reception of the city administration, where you could copy some information by hand,” he said.

Because of Zheleznogorsk’s militarily closed status, special passes are required to visit, and without being able to visit, many interested citizens were unable to view the Environmental Impact Study. According to Vladimir Mikheyev, director of the Citizens’ Center For Nuclear Nonproliferation, the closed nature of the impact study shows that Russia’s state nuclear corporation Rosatom is hardly ready to cooperate with the public, specifically with critical observations by ecological groups. They only invited organizations that confirm the position of the corporation to their event,” Mikheyev told the Russian Press Line news agency.

Source: Bellona Foundation, 2 August, written by Anna Kireeva, translated by Charles Digges
Contact: WISE Russia, Moskovsky prospect 120-34, 236006 Kaliningrad, Russia
Tel: +7 903 299 75 84
Email: ecodefense[at]

Hapana Kwa Madini Ya Uranium

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
WISE Amsterdam

('No to uranium mining' in Swahili) On July 2, at a meeting in St Petersburg in the Russian Federation, the Unesco World Heritage Committee unanimously approved Tanzania’s request to allow uranium mining in the Selous game reserve. The reserve was designated a World Heritage Site in 1982 and is one of the largest remaining wildernesses in Africa.

After months of intense lobbying by nuclear industry and government the July 2, de-cision comes as a great relief to the go-vernment, whose plan to alter the boun-daries of Selous met strong opposition from environmentalists on the grounds that mining in the World Heritage Site would have disastrous consequences. They argued that mining of uranium had caused devastating environmental and health damage wherever it had been done.

But, at the meeting in St Petersburg from June 24 to 6 July 2012, the com-mittee unanimously approved Tanza-nia’s request to modify the boundary of the game reserve. The decision means that some 19,793 hectares (nearly 200 square kilometers) to the south of the Selous, where uranium deposits are found, will also excluded. Tanzania ap-plied for permission to alter the bounda-ries of Selous in January 2011, arguing that extracting uranium in the area was critical for funding development pro-grams and driving the economy. 

The Selous was designated a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1982 due to the diversity of its wildlife and undisturbed nature. Within the reserve no permanent human habitation or permanent struc-tures are permitted. All entries and exits are carefully controlled by the Wildlife Division of the Ministry of Natural Re-sources and Tourism. The five million-hectare game reserve is home to the largest population of elephants on the continent and also has large numbers of black rhinos, cheetahs, giraffes, hippos and crocodiles -along with grasslands and miombo forests. Its diverse lands-cape retains undisturbed biological and ecological processes. 

The project will be carried out by an Australian uranium mining firm called Mantra Resources at a cost of US$400million. Some environmentalists and politicians, including a handful of MPs, have consistently voiced strong criticism to the mining plan. They main-tain that the project will have devasta-ting consequences on the economic and social fronts and deal a major blow to the ecology.

According to IUCN more than a quarter of natural World Heritage sites are under pressure by existing or future mineral extraction. For this reason, IUCN is calling on the private sector, state-run companies and governments them-selves to adopt and enforce the “no go” principle, meaning that no mining and/or mineral and oil exploration and production can be carried out in World Heritage sites. 

Sources: The Citizen (Tanzania), 3 July 2012 /  Tanzania Daily News, 5 July 2012 / UICN website, visited 10 July 2012.


Russian anti-nuke group waves off foreign agent law, refuses to pay fines

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Charles Digges − Bellona

Russia's Ecodefense anti-nuclear group has again been fined for refusing to register as a "foreign agent" with the country's Justice Ministry in a court hearing to which the group's co-chair, Vladimir Slivyak, said the organization had not even been invited to attend.

Slivyak told Bellona in an interview that Ecodefense was informed only Monday, July 20 that a judge in the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad had on July 3 levied another 100,000 ruble ($1,700) fine against his organization for failing to register as a foreign agent.

He said his group never received any summons for the July 3 hearing, and as such, would refuse to pay the fine.

The foreign agent self-appellation is required under Russia's controversial 2012 NGO law stipulating that non-profits receiving foreign funding and engaging in vaguely defined political activity must register as foreign agents and submit to onerous reporting and auditing procedure.1

The law also requires NGOs that are so designated to indicate on all material they publish that they are foreign agents. The vast majority of NGOs in Russia ignored the law when it took effect in November 2012, which said that the foreign agent term characterized them as spies or traitors.2

The group denounced the law in a Russian-language statement yesterday, saying, "We consider the actions of the Justice Ministry (which led to our inclusion on the so called roster of ‘foreign agents') deeply politically motivated and directed at the destruction of the reputation of the civil society movement, which is defending Russia's rights."3

In July, apparently frustrated by the lack of foreign agents signing up, President Vladimir Putin gave broad powers to the Justice Ministry to list NGOs as agents on its own.4 Several days later, Ecodefense was ensnared in that dragnet.5

The group, which was the first ecological group to be named a foreign agent, was told that it ran afoul of the law for protesting the construction of the Baltic Nuclear Power plant. According to a letter Ecodefense received from the Justice Ministry, speaking out against government plans to build nuclear station is tantamount to speaking out against the government – which the Justice Ministry characterized as "political activity."

By Slivyak's own admission, and as stated openly in audits, the group has received funding from the European Union and several German environmental groups.

Ecodefense was previously fined 300,000 rubles ($5,200 at the current exchange rate) in September for refusing to voluntarily register itself on the foreign agent list.6

Slivyak said yesterday that his group won't pay that fine either. He also said that the group's choice to ignore the fines has not resulted in any official interference with the group's environmental activities.

"There is international cooperation and solidarity [with Russian NGOs], he said. People are helping us to continue our work."

Indeed, Slivyak is on a several week tour of South Africa to in an effort to thwart Russian state nuclear corporation Rosatom's efforts to forge several nuclear power plant deals the company is trying to make with Johannesburg. He experienced no interference from authorities.

"Civil disobedience is the instrument of change, when you feel change is absolutely needed," he said. "We ignore their law – we will not give [Russian authorities] any reports, we will not mention that we are foreign agents in publications, we won't do audits as they request. We just tell them that we are not agents – we won't do this because only agents do this, and we are not agents."

He added that the authorities notified the group that it would be required to undergo another audit in August.

"They want [us to present] everything, like descriptions of projects, financial details, publications – everything," he said. But he said the group intends to disappoint inspectors when they come.

"Most probably we will just not give them anything," he said.

Such a strident approach, however, is not without its risks, and Slivyak noted that his organization's days might be numbered.

"We expect that after the August inspection, they will start the process of closing us down," he said.

A Justice Ministry spokesman also told Bellona that, under the law, legal actions could escalate to imprisoning Ecodefense's leaders.

But Slivyak remained optimistic that Ecodefense's choice to simply ignore the NGO law would have a positive effect in the long run.

"You never know what the government is planning," he said. "We will get our country back sooner or later – it's just a matter of time."

Until then, Slivyak said, his group will continue to wave off government fines and intimidation and go about its anti-nuclear advocacy.

"The ideal situation is to not follow rules when you think they're unfair," he said.

According to a Human Rights Watch tally, the Justice Ministry has listed 74 organizations on its foreign agent list as of July 8.7 Alongside Ecodefense, they include many more environmental organizations like Bellona Murmansk8, Planeta Nadezhd9 (Planet of Hopes, an advocacy group for South Urals residents affected by radioactive contamination from the Mayak Chemical Combine), Dront of Nizhny Novgorod, Rostov's Eco-logika, Samara's, Educational Center for Environment and Security and many others.

The breakdown of foreign agents also targets groups affiliated with press rights, and gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender advocacy.

Reprinted from Bellona











Russia's nuclear slow-down

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Jim Green

Russia is often said to be one of four countries driving the global nuclear renaissance, along with China, India and South Korea. The World Nuclear Association's reactor database paints a rosy picture: 34 'operable' reactors, 9 under construction, 31 'on order or planned', and 18 'proposed'. Nuclear capacity is 25.3 gigawatts, with 57.2 GW in the pipeline.1

Those numbers mask a very different reality. If there is any nuclear growth in Russia, it will be slow and modest. The rapid, sustained growth implied in the term 'renaissance' is out of the question. Just four reactors have begun operation since the year 2000, and new reactors will be required just to maintain the status quo given the ageing of the Russian reactor fleet − already 19 reactors have been operating beyond their engineered life spans of 30 years.2

On May 26, Russia's ministry of economic development announced significant delays to the completion and start-up of new nuclear power plants.3 Deputy Russian Economic Development Minister Nikolai Podguzov said: "In agreement with all executive bodies together with Rosatom, our prognosis is there will be a very significant delay in commissioning the reactors. ... These units are simply not needed at the moment thanks to a current energy surplus."4

Reactors affected by the latest decision include the two reactors of Leningrad Phase II, the second reactor of Novovoronezh Phase II, and the planned four-reactor Smolensk Phase II project.

While the government cites an energy surplus for the nuclear slow-down, other factors are at work − Russia's economic problems, and Rosatom's inability to fund the many reactors projects it has planned in Russia and overseas. Nils Bøhmer, a nuclear physicist and executive director of the Environmental Rights Center Bellona, said: "I think this is the first signal from the Russian nuclear industry that they will reduce their building of new nuclear reactors, both domestic, but also on the international arena."4

A January 2015 report by the Russian Duma's independent Audit Chamber revealed that delayed payments for construction costs at numerous new nuclear plants are leading to cost overruns and delays. Overall, funding constraints have put seven of nine new Russian nuclear power plant builds behind schedule, according the report.5

The Audit Chamber report also questioned the adequacy of reviews of nuclear projects by the Directorate-General for State Environmental Reviews. One problem occurred at Leningrad-2 plant's No. 1 reactor − technical violations in construction resulted in a collapse of the unit's reinforcement cages, which brought down the reactor's outer protective shell in July 2011. The construction of the No 1 and 2 reactors was delayed by a year as a result, with substantial cost overruns.5

According to the Russian nuclear regulator Rostekhnadzor, 39 incidents occurred at Russian nuclear power plants in 2013. The main reasons cited by the regulator were "mismanagement, defects in equipment and design errors."2

In January, the international ratings agency Fitch downgraded 13 of the largest Russian companies, including Rosatom subsidiary Atomenergoprom. Government funding for Rosatom's reactor projects is expected to amount to 88 billion roubles (about US$1.57b; 1.41b) this year but will fall to less than half that amount in subsequent years.6


Vladimir Slivyak, co-chair of the Russian ecological group Ecodefense, noted in a recent article:

"Despite a portfolio of orders estimated at over $100 billion Rosatom claimed it had at the end of 2014, actual construction work on the company's new reactor projects is effectively only proceeding in China and Belarus (and the Indian Kudankulam-2 was just recently finished, according to the Russian media). Domestically, the state corporation last year promised to launch three new reactors, but only one saw the light of day: a new unit at Rostov NPP, in the south of European Russia. Overall, all Rosatom projects where any work at all is being done are affected by serious delays, which increases costs significantly."6

It is unlikely that Rosatom is capable of building dozens of new reactors across the world. The Russian National Wealth Fund − which is meant to complement and support Russia's pension system − is being plundered to part-fund Rosatom's planned new reactor in Finland.6

Former World Nuclear Association executive Steve Kidd noted in October 2014 that it is "highly unlikely that Russia will succeed in carrying out even half of the projects in which it claims to be closely involved".7

There are also serious doubts about the ability of a number of the countries interested in buying Russian reactors to finance them − even though Rosatom is offering huge loans to get projects off the ground. Countries reported to be considering purchasing Russian reactors include Iran, Turkey, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Jordan, Hungary, Finland, Egypt, India and South Africa.

Floating reactors, fast reactors

The cost of building Russia's floating nuclear power plant has increased four-fold to 37 billion rubles (US$660m; €590m), and it is seven years behind schedule. The plant, which is two years from completion, comprises a barge and two 35-megawatt reactors. There are concerns that it will be a sitting duck for terror attacks, nuclear theft, and unreachable accidents.8

Rosatom subsidiary Rosenergoatom has "indefinitely" postponed construction of the BN-1200 sodium-cooled fast neutron reactor, citing the need to improve fuel for the reactor and amid speculation about the cost-effectiveness of the project. The decision to indefinitely postpone the project might be reviewed in 2020. The reactor had been scheduled to start commercial operation in 2025, depending on experience operating a pilot BN-800 fast-neutron reactor which achieved first criticality in June 2014 but has not yet started commercial operation.9

As recently as July 2014, Rosenergoatom's director general said that Russia planned to begin construction of three BN-1200 reactors before 2030.9 OKBM − the Rosatom subsidiary that designed the BN-1200 reactor − previously anticipated that the first BN-1200 reactor would be commissioned in 2020, followed by eight more by 2030.10

Rosenergoatom spokesperson Andrey Timonov the BN-800 reactor "must answer questions about the economic viability of potential fast reactors because at the moment 'fast' technology essentially loses this indicator [when compared with] commercial VVER units."9

Another fast-neutron reactor project − the BREST-OD-300 − is stretching Rosatom's funds. Bellona's Alexander Nikitin said that Rosatom's "Breakthrough" program to develop the BREST-OD-300 reactor was only breaking Rosatom's piggy-bank.4,11



2. Vladimir Slivyak, December 2014, 'Russian Nuclear Industry Overview',

3. WNN, 27 May 2015, 'Russian ministry agrees to postponement of new reactors',

4. Charles Digges, 8 June 2015, 'Is Russia postponing reactor builds over power surpluses or financial deficits?',

5. Charles Digges, 27 Jan 2015, 'Russian Audit Chamber cites ballooning budgets in domestic nuke projects',

6. Vladimir Slivyak, 18 May 2015, 'Survival of the fittest? World’s major nuclear builders are in for a long stretch in the red',

7. Steve Kidd, 6 Oct 2014, "The world nuclear industry – is it in terminal decline?",

8. Charles Digges, 25 May 2015, 'New documents show cost of Russian floating nuclear power plant skyrockets',

9. World Nuclear News, 16 April 2015, 'Russia postpones BN-1200 in order to improve fuel design',


11. Alexander Nikitin, 5 May 2015, 'In a perpetual search for perpetuum mobile',

More information:


Nuclear power: 2014 review

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Jim Green − Nuclear Monitor editor

Global nuclear power capacity increased slightly in 2014 according to the World Nuclear Association1:

  • Five new reactors (4.76 gigawatts (GW)) began supplying electricity (three in China, one each in Argentina and Russia), and three were permanently shut down (Vermont Yankee, USA; Fukushima Daiichi #5 and #6).
  • There are now 437 'operable' reactors (377.7 GW) compared with 435 reactors (375.3 GW) a year ago. Thus the number of reactors increased by two (0.5%) and nuclear generating capacity increased by 2.4 GW (0.6%). (For comparison, around 100 GW of solar and wind power capacity were built in 2014, up from 74 GW in 2013.2)
  • Construction started on just three reactors during 2014, one each in Belarus, the United Arab Emirates, and Argentina. A total of 70 reactors (74 GW) are under construction.

Thus a long-standing pattern of stagnation continues. Global nuclear power capacity grew by 10.6% in the two decades from 1995−2014, and just 2.6% in the decade from 2005−2014.3

The pattern of stagnation is likely to persist. Steve Kidd, a nuclear consultant who worked for the World Nuclear Association for 17 years, wrote in a May 2014 article: "Upper scenarios showing rapid nuclear growth in many countries including plants starting up in new countries now look very unlikely, certainly before the late 2020s. If there is to be a nuclear renaissance, it is now much more likely to happen later, and with a new generation of reactors. On the other hand, predictions that another major accident would shut down nuclear in lots of countries have been negated by the experience of Fukushima. Although there remain some uncertainties, the outlying upper and lower cases are much less credible than before."4

Despite 20 years of stagnation, the World Nuclear Association remains upbeat. Its latest report, The World Nuclear Supply Chain: Outlook 2030, envisages the start-up of 266 new reactors by 2030.5 The figure is implausible − it would require completion of the 70 reactors under construction, start-to-finish construction of another 196 reactors, and start-to-finish construction of dozens more reactors to replace those that are shut down ... all in the space of 15 years! If only the World Nuclear Association took bets on its ridiculous projections.

Nuclear Energy Insider is more sober and reflective in an end-of-year review published in December: "As we embark on a new year, there are distinct challenges and opportunities on the horizon for the nuclear power industry. Many industry experts believe that technology like Small Nuclear Reactors (SMR) represent a strong future for nuclear. Yet, rapidly growing renewable energy sources, a bountiful and inexpensive supply of natural gas and oil, and the aging population of existing nuclear power plants represent challenges that the industry must address moving forward."6

Steve Kidd is still more downbeat, arguing that nuclear advocates have not made much progress gaining public acceptance over the past few years.7 Kidd writes: "[W]e have seen no nuclear renaissance (instead, a notable number of reactor closures in some countries, combined with strong growth in China) ... Countries such as Germany and Switzerland that claim environmental credentials are moving strongly away from nuclear. Even with rapid nuclear growth in China, nuclear's share in world electricity is declining. The industry is doing little more than hoping that politicians and financiers eventually see sense and back huge nuclear building programmes. On current trends, this is looking more and more unlikely. The high and rising nuclear share in climate-friendly scenarios is false hope, with little in the real outlook giving them any substance. Far more likely is the situation posited in the World Nuclear Industry Status Report8 ... Although this report is produced by anti-nuclear activists, its picture of the current reactors gradually shutting down with numbers of new reactors failing to replace them has more than an element of truth given the recent trends."

Kidd's comments on renewables are also worth quoting: "The nuclear industry giving credence to climate change from fossil fuels has simply led to a stronger renewables industry. Nuclear seems to be "too difficult" and gets sidelined − as it has within the entire process since the original Kyoto accords. And now renewables, often thought of as useful complements to nuclear, begin to threaten it in power markets when there is abundant power from renewables when the wind blows and the sun shines."7

Kidd proposes reducing nuclear costs by simplifying and standardising current reactor designs. Meanwhile, as the International Energy Agency's World Economic Outlook 2014 report noted, nuclear growth will be "concentrated in markets where electricity is supplied at regulated prices, utilities have state backing or governments act to facilitate private investment." Conversely, "nuclear power faces major challenges in competitive markets where there are significant market and regulatory risks, and public acceptance remains a critical issue worldwide."9

Four countries supposedly driving a nuclear renaissance

Let's briefly consider countries where the number of power reactors might increase or decrease by 10 or more over the next 15−20 years. Generally, it is striking how much uncertainty there is about the nuclear programs in these countries.

China is one of the few exceptions. China has 22 operable reactors, 27 under construction and 64 planned. Significant, rapid growth can be expected unless China's nuclear program is derailed by a major accident or a serious act of sabotage or terrorism.10

In the other three countries supposedly driving a nuclear renaissance − Russia, South Korea and India − growth is likely to be modest and slow.

Russia has 34 operating reactors, nine under construction and 31 planned. Only three reactors have begun operation over the past decade, and the pattern of slow growth is likely to continue. As for Russia's ambitious nuclear export program, Steve Kidd noted in October 2014 that it "is reasonable to suggest that it is highly unlikely that Russia will succeed in carrying out even half of the projects in which it claims to be closely involved".11

South Korea has 23 operating reactors, five under construction and eight planned. Earlier plans for rapid nuclear expansion have been derailed by the Fukushima disaster, a major scandal over forged safety documents, and a hacking attack on Korea Hydro's computer network.12 Growth will be, at most, modest and slow.

India has 21 operating reactors, six under construction and 22 planned. But India's nuclear program is in a "deep freeze" according to a November 2014 article in the Hindustan Times.13 Likewise, India Today reported on January 8: "The Indian nuclear programme is on the brink of distress. For the past four years, no major tender has gone through − a period that was, ironically, supposed to mark the beginning of an Indian nuclear renaissance in the aftermath of the landmark India−US civil nuclear deal."14

India's energy minister Piyush Goyal said in November 2014 that the government remains "cautious" about developing nuclear power. He pointed to waning interest in the US and Europe: "This government would like to be cautious so that we are not saddled with something only under the garb of clean energy or alternate energy; something which the West has discarded and is sought to be brought to India."15

A November 2014 article in The Hindu newspaper notes that three factors have put a break on India's reactor-import plans: "the exorbitant price of French- and U.S.-origin reactors, the accident-liability issue, and grass-roots opposition to the planned multi-reactor complexes."16 In addition, unresolved disagreements regarding safeguards and non-proliferation assurances are delaying US and European investment in India's nuclear program.17

Saudi Arabia last year announced plans to build 16 reactors by 2032. Already, the timeline has been pushed back from 2032 to 2040.18 As with any country embarking on a nuclear power program for the first time, Saudi Arabia faces daunting logistical and workforce issues.19 Numerous nuclear supplier are lining up to supply Saudi Arabia's nuclear power program but political obstacles could easily emerge, not least because Saudi officials (and royalty) have repeatedly said that the Kingdom will build nuclear weapons if Iran's nuclear program is not constrained.20

South Africa's on-again off-again nuclear power program is on again with plans for 9.6 GW of nuclear capacity in addition to the two operating reactors at Koeberg.21 In 2007, state energy utility Eskom approved a plan for 20 GW of new nuclear capacity. Areva's EPR and Westinghouse's AP1000 were short-listed and bids were submitted. But in 2008 Eskom announced that it would not proceed with either of the bids due to a lack of finance. Easy come, easy go.

Thus the latest plan for 9.6 GW of new nuclear capacity in South Africa is being treated with scepticism. Academic Prof. Steve Thomas noted in a July 2014 report: "Overall, a renewed call for tenders (or perhaps bilateral negotiations with a preferred bidder) is likely to produce the same result as 2008: a very high price for an unproven technology that will only be financeable if the South African public, either in the form of electricity consumers or as taxpayers, is prepared to give open ended guarantees."22

Pro-nuclear commentator Dan Yurman is also sceptical: "Depending on who's pricing analysis you accept, the reactors alone will cost between [US]$5000 (Rosatom) and $6500/Kw (Eskom) or between $48 billion and $62.4 billion. Adding in balance of plant equipment and power line infrastructure, and the total price tag heads north to between $65 billion and $84 billion. Given that the intended power purchase firm is state-owned Eskom, which is perpetually broke due to government resistance to rate increases, the entire exercise seems implausible at this scale. ... Almost no one believes that as long as Zuma is in power that anything remotely resembling an orderly procurement process is likely to take place."23

Iran has one operable power reactor. Last year, Russia and Iran signed a contract to build two power reactors, and they signed a protocol envisaging possible construction of an additional six reactors.24

Plans for significant nuclear power expansion in one or two other countries − such as the Pakistani government's plan for 40 GW of nuclear capacity by 2050 − are implausible.25

Nuclear negawatts

Now to briefly consider those countries where a significant decline of nuclear power is possible or likely over the next 15−20 years.

Patterns of stagnation or slow decline in north America and western Europe can safely be predicted. Steve Kidd wrote in May 2014 that uranium demand (and nuclear power capacity) "will almost certainly fall in the key markets in Western Europe and North America" in the period to 2030.4 In January 2014, the European Commission forecast that EU nuclear generating capacity of 131 GW in 2010 will decline to 97 GW in 2025.26

The United States has 99 operable reactors. Five reactors are under construction, "with little prospect for more" according to Decisions to shut down just as many reactors have been taken in the past few years. As the Financial Times noted last year, two decisions that really rattled the industry were the closures of Dominion Resources' Kewaunee plant in Wisconsin and Entergy's Vermont Yankee − both were operating and licensed to keep operating into the 2030s, but became uneconomic to keep in operation.28

The US Energy Information Administration estimated in April 2014 that 10.8 GW of nuclear capacity − around 10% of total US nuclear capacity − could be shut down by the end of the decade.29

The most that the US nuclear industry can hope for is stagnation underpinned by new legislative and regulatory measures favouring nuclear power along with multi-billion dollar government handouts. The situation is broadly similar in the UK − the nuclear power industry there is scrambling just to stand still.

France's lower house of Parliament voted in October 2014 to cut nuclear's share of electricity generation from 75% to 50% by 2025, to cap nuclear capacity at 63.2 GW, and to pursue a renewables target of 40% by 2030 with various new measures to promote the growth of renewables.30,31 The Senate will vote on the legislation early this year.

However there will be many twists and turns in French energy policy. Energy Minister Segolene Royal said on January 13 that France should build a new generation of reactors, and she noted that the October 2014 energy transition bill did not include a 40-year age limit for power reactors as ecologists wanted.32

Germany's government is systematically pursuing its policy of phasing out nuclear power by 2023. That said, nothing is certain: the nuclear phase-out policy of the social democrat / greens coalition government in the early 2000s was later overturned by a conservative government.

Japan's 48 operable reactors are all shut down. A reasonable estimate is that three-quarters (36/48) of the reactors will restart in the coming years. Before the Fukushima disaster, Tokyo planned to add another 15−20 reactors to the fleet of 55 giving a total of 70−75 reactors. Thus, Japan's nuclear power industry will be around half the size it might have been if not for the Fukushima disaster.

The elephant in the room − ageing reactors

The problem of ageing reactors came into focus in 2014 − and will remain in focus for decades to come with the average age of the world's power reactors now 29 years and steadily increasing.33,34

Problems with ageing reactors include:

  • the increased risk of accidents (and associated problems such as generally inadequate accident liability arrangements);
  • an increased rate of unplanned reactors outages (at one point last year, less than half of the UK's nuclear capacity was available due to multiple outages35);
  • costly refurbishments;
  • debates over appropriate safety standards for reactors designed decades ago; and
  • the costs associated with reactor decommissioning and long-term nuclear waste management.

Greenpeace highlighted the problems associated with ageing reactors with the release of a detailed report last year36, and emphasised the point by breaking into six ageing European nuclear plants on 5 March 2014.37

The International Energy Agency (IEA) said in its World Energy Outlook 2014 report: "A wave of retirements of ageing nuclear reactors is approaching: almost 200 of the 434 reactors operating at the end of 2013 are retired in the period to 2040, with the vast majority in the European Union, the United States, Russia and Japan."9

IEA chief economist Fatih Birol said: "Worldwide, we do not have much experience and I am afraid we are not well-prepared in terms of policies and funds which are devoted to decommissioning. A major concern for all of us is how we are going to deal with this massive surge in retirements in nuclear power plants."38

The World Energy Outlook 2014 report estimates the cost of decommissioning reactors to be more than US$100 billion (€89b) up to 2040, adding that "considerable uncertainties remain about these costs, reflecting the relatively limited experience to date in dismantling and decontaminating reactors and restoring sites for other uses."

The IEA's head of power generation analysis, Marco Baroni, said that even excluding waste disposal costs, the final cost could be as much as twice as high as the $100 billion estimate, and that decommissioning costs per reactor can vary by a factor of four.34

Baroni said the issue was not the decommissioning cost per reactor but "whether enough funds have been set aside to provide for it." Evidence of inadequate decommissioning funds is mounting. To give just one example, Entergy estimates a cost of US$1.24 billion (€1.10b) to decommission Vermont Yankee, but the company's decommissioning trust fund for the plant − US$0.67 billion − is barely half that amount.39

Michael Mariotte, President of the Nuclear Information & Resource Service, noted in a recent article: "Entergy, for example, has only about half the needed money in its decommissioning fund (and even so still found it cheaper to close the reactor than keep it running); repeat that across the country with multiple and larger reactors and the shortfalls could be stunning. Expect heated battles in the coming years as nuclear utilities try to push the costs of the decommissioning fund shortfalls onto ratepayers."40

The nuclear industry has a simple solution to the problem of old reactors: new reactors. But the battles over ageing and decommissioned reactors − and the raiding of taxpayers' pockets to cover shortfalls − will make it that much more difficult to convince politicians and the public to support new reactors.


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