Rosatom reportedly offering unlikely floating nuclear power deal to Sudan

moving akademic lomonosov The Akademik Lomonosov puts in for further construction at the Baltic Shipyard. (Photo: Baltiisky Zavod).

Russia’s state nuclear corporation Rosatom, in an apparent effort to expand its portfolio of deals abroad, has said it will build a floating nuclear power plant for Sudan, the troubled central African country, which by many accounts is still in the grip of war that divided the nation in 2011.

The announcement follows another agreement the company reportedly signed with Sudan to build a full-scale, four-reactor nuclear power plant, which the administration in Khartoum told the country’s official, non-independent media would be built within the next eight years.

There’s scarce data available on what sort of plants Rosatom would supposedly furnish to Sudan, but the plans for the floating plant were attributed by the Sudan Tribune to Muataz Musa, the country’s minister of water resources and electricity.

Neither the Sudanese government nor Rosatom have specified exactly where a floating nuclear power plant would be located, but presumably it would be moored somewhere along Sudan’s coast on the Red Sea, an area that in recent years has been known for its pirates.

Russia is nearing the completion of its controversial Akademik Lomonosov, the only floating nuclear power plant under construction in the world. This plant, after it leaves the Baltic Shipyard in St Petersburg, will be towed to Murmansk for fueling and will eventually be moored in the port of Pevek, in Russia’s Far East in Chukotka.

The Akademik Lomonosov was initially billed as a prototype for several more floating plants of its kind, which Rosatom hoped at the time would become one of its prime exports. The advent of floating nuclear plants was even hailed by The Economist, the influential British news weekly, in an edition published in August.

But since then, Rosatom has seemingly bowed to the fact that few countries are interested in floating nuclear plants, which many see as ripe for environmental disaster or terrorist attacks, and the company recently acknowledged it has no plans to duplicate its troubled history with the building of the Akademik Lomonosov.

Nonetheless, the reported deals with Sudan are consistent with Rosatom’s approach to selling nuclear power plants on the foreign market, a drive that has included such unlikely customers as Sudan’s neighbors in Ethiopia as well as Egypt, Jordan, Algeria, Nigeria,  Argentina and Bolivia and a host of other countries where the infrastructure for nuclear power won’t be ready for years.

These deals are largely “memorandums of understanding,” “framework agreements” and other handshake-type deals that aren’t meant so much to come to fruition as they are meant to blanket the foreign market and squeeze out competitors. Rosatom has dozens of outstanding memoranda of understanding, which the company says account for some $135 billion in outstanding foreign business.

Rosatom’s approach to marketing its reactors is unique because it offers to finance, build and operate its plants, as well as to task away the waste and spent nuclear fuel.

These generous terms come thanks to the enormous state subsidies Rosatom receives, and which it can then funnel into loans that boost its profits on paper. With government subsides set to decrease or dry up in 2020, however, Rosatom seems desperate to announce ever more memorandums of understanding.

It’s not likely that many of these deals will ever become firm contracts. But as 2020 approaches, the company is likely to announce yet more deals as unlikely as the one Sudan reported this month.