Bellona Nuclear Digest. May 2023

Illustration by Bellona; source image from the website of the Baltic Shipyard.
Illustration by Bellona; source image from the website of the Baltic Shipyard.

Publish date: June 29, 2023

Written by: Bellona

After Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Bellona ceased its activity in the aggressor country. On 18 April 2023, the Russian general prosecutor’s office declared Bellona to be an undesirable organization.

However, we continue to monitor events in the field of nuclear and radiation safety relating to Russia and Ukraine, which we believe are of interest to foreign readers. We analyze the situation in order to assess the degree of Russia’s international influence on other countries and the risks connected with this. We present you with a survey of these events for May 2023.

Follow the links to read the digests for April, March and February. Download a PDF version of the digest hereSubscribe to our mailing list to make sure you don’t miss the next digest.


Survey of events at the Zaporizhzhia NPP for May

The IAEA’s new plan for the Zaporizhzhia NPP

Russia and Belarus sign documents on the procedure for deploying nuclear weapons


Attempts to strengthen the European nuclear industry and reduce its dependence on Russia

New sanctions against Rosatom


Production of spare parts launched at the Rostov NPP site as part of the import substitution program

The impact of sanctions on building nuclear-powered icebreakers

Rosatom and the Baltic Shipyard (Baltiysky Zavod) sign contract to build multifunctional nuclear service vessel

Rosatom signs contract for delivery of natural uranium to Brazil

Rosatom’s international projects. A survey of events.

Rosatom head announces final stage of work on eliminating the nuclear legacy in the Arctic. But this is not true.



Survey of events at the Zaporizhzhia NPP for May

On 3 May the website of the State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate of Ukraine published information that military equipment, weapons and explosives had been located in the turbine room of unit 4 of the Zaporizhzhia NPP. The inspectorate states that according to their information, at the end of July 2022, Russian military deployed heavy military equipment with ammunition, and also weapons and explosives, in the engine room of unit 1; in early August 2022 information was received that military equipment was also deployed in the engine room of unit 2.

The Russian side denies this, stating that the IAEA mission is present at the Zaporizhzhia NPP but has made no mention of what the Ukrainian side alleges. At a briefing after a UN session on 30 May, IAEA head Rafael Grossi noted that experts had not seen heavy weaponry at the station. At the same briefing, Grossi specified that by heavy weaponry he meant multiple rocket launchers, artillery systems and munitions, and tanks. However, the IAEA previously confirmed the presence of military and military equipment at the station.

On 4 May, the Russian media published information concerning the threat of flooding at the ZNPP because of the record water level at the Kakhovka Reservoir. A statement by the head of IAEA on 12 May describes the water level at the reservoir as having reached a record level of 17.2 m, but later it began to decrease. The ZNPP platform has a height of 22 meters, approximately five meters higher than the water level in the reservoir at that time. The IAEA calculated that if the water level in the reservoir continued to rise to a level that the Kakhovka HPP dam, located around 100 km downstream from the ZNPP, could not hold, the subsequent decrease in the water level around the ZNPP and nearby towns and villages would not present a direct threat for nuclear safety. The risk assessment of a dam burst conducted previously by Bellona coincided with IAEA assessments.

We should add that the Kakhovka HPP dam breach that took place a month later, on 6 June, was commented on by all sides, by Russia, Ukraine and IAEA, to the effect that it did not present a direct and imminent threat for the Zaporizhzhia NPP. This shows that the modellings of this scenario previously carried out by all sides are approximately similar in their assessments.

спутник The shallowed Kakhovka reservoir near the Zaporizhzhya NPP after the breach of the Kakhovka HPP dam. Satellite image from June 18, 2023. Credit:

Grossi made a statement on the situation in Ukraine on 6 May, saying that IAEA experts at the ZNPP had received information on the temporary evacuation of residents of the region, including from Enerhodar where the majority of station employees and their families live, to Russia or to Russian-controlled territories of Ukraine. It is reported that operative personnel of the station will not be evacuated and will continue to work. According to information from Energoatom, Russia was preparing to evacuate around 2,700 station employees along with their families, who had signed a contract with the affiliated structure of Rosatom that controls the ZNPP. Around 1,500 more employees who did not sign contracts continue to work at the station.

The director of the Zaporizhzhia NPP appointed by Russia, Yury Chernichuk, announced on 6 May that there was currently no need to evacuate station employees, but that some families who were concerned about their children’s psychological state were allowed to leave the city for a brief period to move to more peaceful areas that had been prepared for habitation.

The IAEA group noted that in the subsequent week there was fewer personnel at the station, but confirmed that the main personnel working at the main control rooms were present at each shift. This was because personnel were on leave. However, on 15 May the chief personnel returned to the station and continued their work. Nevertheless, the size of the workforce remains considerably smaller than the pre-war level. “Our experts have seen a notable increase of personnel at the plant this week. At the moment, it has enough staff for a plant whose reactors are all in a shutdown mode. It remains clearly insufficient, however, for carrying out necessary maintenance and other regular work. The longer the plant has this kind of reduced staffing, the bigger the nuclear safety and security risks become. The situation remains unstable,” Grossi said.

On 22 May at 5:26 am the ZNPP was cut off from its only power source, the Dniprovska high-voltage transmission line, and all diesel generators were switched on automatically to provide power for reactor cooling and other essential nuclear safety and security functions. External power was restored five hours later. This is the seventh blackout at the station since it was captured.

The director general of the IAEA called for stepped-up efforts to restore the ZNPP’s back-up power lines and reiterated the need for the IAEA team at the site to gain access to the nearby Zaporizhzhia Thermal Power Plant (ZTPP), which has yet to be granted despite Rosatom’s assurances. The ZTPP operates its 300 kV open switchyard, through which back-up power has in the past been provided to the ZNPP.

The IAEA’s new plan for the Zaporizhzhya NPP

On 30 May, IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi stated at a session of the UN Security Council that as a result of intensive consultations with the leadership of both Ukraine and Russia, he had identified five concrete principles to help ensure nuclear safety and security at ZNPP in order to prevent a nuclear accident and ensure the integrity of the plant.

  • There should be no attack of any kind from or against the plant, in particular targeting the reactors, spent fuel storage, other critical infrastructure, or personnel;
  • ZNPP should not be used as storage or as a base for heavy weapons (i.e. multiple rocket launchers, artillery systems and munitions, and tanks) or military personnel that could be used for an attack from the plant;
  • Off-site power to the plant should not be put at risk. To that effect, all efforts should be made to ensure that off-site power remains available and secure at all times;
  • All structures, systems and components essential to the safe and secure operation of ZNPP should be protected from attacks or acts of sabotage;
  • No actions should be taken that undermines these principles.

IAEA experts present at the ZNPP will report to the head of the agency on the observance of these principles. The director general will publicly report any violations of these principles.

Grossi called for both sides to observe these principles, and for members of the Security Council to support them. He stressed that a nuclear accident may be avoided if these principles are adhered to.

In the discussion that followed Grossi’s speech, the Permanent Representative of Russia to the United Nations Vassily Nebenzia said “Mr. Grossi’s proposals for the plant’s safety are in line with measures the Russian Federation has been implementing for a long time.” Sergiy Kyslytsya, the Permanent Representative of Ukraine to the United Nations, said that the principles proposed by Grossi should “be complemented by the station’s full demilitarization and de-occupation”.

Replying to questions by journalists after the meeting, Grossi said that despite disagreements, the proposed principles had been supported without objections, allowing the IAEA to deepen and intensify its work at the ZNPP. The agency plans to expand its presence at the Zaporizhzhia NPP, and also implement new functions in accordance with the five principles. This primarily involves assessing threats connected directly with military operations. IAEA experts intend to record all cases of firing at the station or firing from its territory, which they did not do previously, citing the lack of a mandate. In the near future the head of the IAEA will visit Ukraine and Russia.

Security Council Meets on Threats to International Peace and Security Rafael Mariano Grossi, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), briefs the Security Council meeting on threats to international peace and security. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

Commentary by Bellona: The Zaporizhzhia NPP is a nuclear and hazardous radiation “hotspot” of the Russian-Ukrainian war, so Bellona pays particular attention to this site, and monitors and analyzes literally every event concerning the ZNPP. Attempting to receive an objective picture, Bellona analyzes all available information from all sources, including sources from the warring sides of the military conflict.

Bellona believes that the main threat for nuclear sites in the period under survey was caused by the following events at the ZNPP:

  • Periodic power cuts, causing consumers to switch to reserve power sources;
  • The continuing deployment of weaponry and military equipment at NPP sites;
  • The reduction in personnel at the ZNPP and worsening morale.

The plan to prevent a nuclear accident presented by the IAEA director general at the UN security council meeting also includes principles to prevent incidents that are of concern to Bellona. However, Bellona believes, it is practically impossible to achieve the strict implementation of all points of the plan, for the following reasons:

  • if a military operation is launched to liberate the captured territory surrounding the ZNPP, critical sites may intentionally or unintentionally come under fire. The only way to avoid these risks is the demilitarization and liberation of the NPP zone, which is what Ukraine demands, but in all likelihood the Russian side will not agree to this voluntarily;
  • the Russian side is already using ZNPP facilities for storage, which was also reported in our previous digests, but persists in denying this at all levels. Today there are no signs that there will be positive changes in this issue.
  • the majority of Ukrainian personnel of the ZNPP and residents of Enerhodar consider the Russian personnel and Russian military to be enemies and occupiers. Mutual hostility always leads to conflicts, sabotage and other hostile acts, which are practically unavoidable.

A more detailed analysis of the state of the ZNPP and an overview of possible events were presented by Bellona in the following materials:

Russia and Belarus sign documents on the procedure for deploying nuclear weapons

The defense ministers of Russia and Belarus, Sergei Shoigu and Viktor Khrenin, signed documents on 25 May determining the “procedure of holding Russian nuclear weapons in special storage facilities on the territory of the republic”. On the same day, Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko announced that “the transportation of nuclear weapons into the country had begun”.

Shoigu stated that President Vladimir Putin had announced the deployment of nuclear weapons in March in response to joint nuclear missions of NATO, including training pilots from non-nuclear countries of the alliance to use US nuclear bombs stockpiled in Europe. The principles of stockpiling US nuclear weapons in NATO countries are also applied in Russia which “is not giving the Republic of Belarus nuclear weapons – the Russian side retains control over them and the decision to use them,” Shoigu said. Preparations for using Russian nuclear weapons have already been carried out for the Iskander missile complexes given to Belarus and crews of Belarussian Su-25 attack aircraft.

Commentary by Bellona: Bellona believes that based on press reports it is impossible to establish with certainty what type of nuclear weapons it is planned to deploy (or have already been deployed) in Belarus, and what the goal of this transportation is, if it has already taken place. Bellona is inclined to believe that reports about the real deployment of nuclear weapons do not yet have any basis in reality, and are intended to show that Russia and Belarus are supposedly reaching a much closer position, going as far as the joint deployment of nuclear weapons.

It is interesting that the signing of documents on the procedure for holding Russian nuclear weapons in special storage facilities in Belarus and the coverage of this events took place during a summit of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU). Perhaps this was a demonstration to other countries of the EAEU, and an invitation for similar collaboration. However, this hint drew a mixed reaction from heads of EAEU member states. While Lukashenko attempted to invite them to take part in closer collaboration that included deploying nuclear weapons in other countries, the Kazakhstan president regarded the invitation as a joke.


Attempts to strengthen the European nuclear industry and reduce its dependence on Russia

On 16 May, the third meeting of ministers and high-ranking representatives of 15 countries of the Nuclear Alliance met in the presence of the EU Commissioner for Energy Kadri Simson. Countries represented, besides France, were: Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, France, Hungary, Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Sweden, and also Italy as an observer. The United Kingdom was present as an invitee.

The Nuclear Alliance, created on the initiative of France, is designed to unite all European countries that plan to rely on nuclear power along with renewable energy sources to implement their energy transition. The first meeting was held in Stockholm on 28 February, the second on 28 March in Brussels.

At the third meeting, discussions were organized in two roundtable sessions: the first to discuss how to build a European chain of nuclear supplies independent of Russian suppliers; the second on requirements arising from the revival of the European nuclear industry, in particular concerning skills and innovations.

At the end of the discussion, member countries of the Nuclear Alliance signed a joint declaration calling for a European plan of action to develop cooperation in the nuclear power sphere. In particular, they calculated that by 2050 nuclear power capacity in the EU may reach 150 GW compared with the present-day 100 GW, by continuing the operation of existing facilities in full safety conditions, building from 30 to 45 new large reactors and developing small modular reactors (SMR) in the EU. On its part, the UK plans to increase its nuclear power generation capacity to 24 GW by 2050.

nuclear alliance Meeting of ministers and high-ranking representatives of the fifteen countries of the "Nuclear Alliance" in Paris on May 16. Credit: Twitter of Agnès Pannier-Runacher, Minister for Energy Transition of France

The meeting participants discussed the importance of ensuring that nuclear power in Europe continues to reduce its dependence on Russian suppliers, and also the need to guarantee the security of supply of nuclear materials, particularly nuclear fuel, for power and non-power uses. They reiterated the importance of working together and with the EU Commission, and supporting the objectives of like minded international efforts such as through the G7, to achieve this objective by bringing about a strong European nuclear industry.

Reuters reports that the EU Commissioner for Energy Kadri Simson announced at the meeting that the EU budget is not permitted to be used for the production of nuclear power, but that the planned reforms to the electricity market could theoretically make it easier for the sector gain access to external financing. She also said that in early 2024, the European Commission will make a study of European nuclear infrastructure, and asked the countries to provide investment plans with a detailed description of their requirements for new nuclear production, including requirements for job requirements.

New sanctions against Rosatom

On 19 May, a number of countries announced new sanctions against Russia, affecting in particular companies or individuals connected with Rosatom. The UK levied sanctions against Rosatom companies UMATEX, which manufactures composite materials on the basis of hydrocarbon fiber for Rosatom, which may be used for military purposes, and the State Research Center of the Russian Federation Troitsk Institute for Innovation and  Fusion Research  (SRC RF TRINITI) , which conducts research and development in the field of laser physics that is directly funded from Russia’s state defense order budget. Oleg Romanenko, general director of JSC “Operating Organization of Zaporizhzhya NPP” also faced sanctions.

The new financial sanctions by Australia have affected affiliated companies of Rosatom conducting nuclear research, infrastructure development and weapons production. The list published on the website of the Australian government includes the companies JSC  NIKIET– one of the largest nuclear construction and scientific research center, specializing in reactor technologies, and also the All-Russian Research Institute of Technical Physics named after Academician E.I. Zababakhin (RFNC-VNIITF), The Federal State Unitary Enterprise Dukhov Automatics Research Institute (VNIIA), the All-Russian Research Institute of Experimental Physics (FSUE RFNC-VNIIEF); two companies of Rosatom’s engineering division –  LLC Trest Rosspetsenergomontazh, which manufactures and assembles steel and ferroconcrete NPP constructions, and JSC Energospecmontazh, which assembles reactor systems, technical equipment, pipelines and metal constructions of NPPs. The Australian sanctions also apply to JSC Operating Organization of Zaporizhzhia NPP.

Canada has included the general director of Rosatom Alexey Likhachev on the sanction list. The US sanctions list now includes FSUE  Atomflot, which owns the fleet of Russian nuclear-powered icebreakers, FSUE Hydrographic Company, which provides for navigation in the region of the Northern Sea Route, and  Rusatom – Additive Technologies, a sector integrator of Rosatom in the Additive technologies sphere.

Commentary by Bellona on the section “international nuclear news”

The issue of excluding Rosatom from international business is rather complex. Evidently, it should be solved in stages, as it is connected with many valid international contracts and international cooperation on the distribution of nuclear power facilities. However, since the war began, member countries of the nuclear alliance have become more politically active concerning the issue of developing and increasing the role of nuclear energy, but with the condition that developed nuclear countries will reduce their dependence on Russia.

Thus, a trend is observed in which firstly at political level, and then also in the field of resources and equipment, European countries are moving towards a maximum possible reduction of dependence on Rosatom.

According to Bellona’s assessments, at present there have practically been no direct and tangible sanctions against Rosatom. In each package of European sanctions levied against Russia, as far as Rosatom is concerned we only see sanctions against individual companies that are not of primary importance (mainly scientific production companies) and individual managers of corporations. This can probably be explained by the excessive economic dependence of countries that use nuclear technologies, and also Rosatom’s rather low share in Russia’s military budget.

However, this does not mean that the sanctions will not increase over time. A lot will depend on the situation in the war, but the trend is that attempts will be made to exclude Rosatom (like other Russian energy companies) from international markets because of the loss of trust in the Russian state.

The issue of the Arctic region remains unclear. Many issues concerning the development of the Arctic and the Northern Sea Route in particular were entrusted to Rosatom. This leads to an increase and expansion of the sanction package against Rosatom as a business and political structure. Sanctions have already been introduced, for example, against the Hydrographic company, Atomflot and other structures and individuals connected with the Arctic. On the one hand, the impression is that sanctions do not particularly worry Rosatom, but even a small step in increasing sanctions will lead to certain unstable processes in the nuclear corporation.

The comments by managers of Rosatom concerning sanctions are noteworthy. The general director of Rosatom and other managers stress that an active search is underway in the sector for launching production as part of the import replacement program. At the same time, they state that sanctions have practically had no negative impact on the nuclear division of the corporation. The impression is that the statements by Rosatom managers are intended to convince the public that sanctions have mainly impacted environmental projects of the corporation, and mainly those connected with liquidation of non-radioactive waste of the first and second hazardous classes, and the rehabilitation of internationally renowned territories such as the Baikalsk pulp and paper mill, for example.

Thus, we can see that the strategy for applying international sanctions against Rosatom is a gradual one at present, but Bellona believes that the intensity of sanction steps will grow.


Production of spare parts launched at the Rostov NPP site as part of the import substitution program

At the Rostov NPP in Volgodonsk as part of the import substitution program, production has been launched of spare parts for in-house needs, at the renovated centralized repair shop. The list of components previously purchased abroad that will now be manufactured directly at the NPP site now include over 150 items that are not difficult to manufacture – shafts, axles, hubs and valve stems that are used in the repair and maintenance of turbines and pumping equipment.

According to Rosenergoatom, the equipment was updated by 111% over three years, as part of modernizing the machines of mechanical repair shops. Now over 50 machines are working here, including new machines with a functionality that has significantly expanded possibilities for manufacturing import-substituting spare parts.

By the end of 2023, it is additionally planned to put a new section into operation at the Rostov NPP – a thermal section for the annealing, normalization and hardening of metal parts directly at the NPP site. This will not only make it possible to carry out the full cycle of manufacturing parts without sending them to other enterprises for processing, but will also remove dependence on foreign suppliers.

Rostov NPP At the Rostov NPP site, production of spare parts has been launched as part of the import substitution program. Credit:

On 26 May at a function of the X Nevsky International Ecological Congress, the head of Rosatom Alexey Likhachev, discussing Rosatom’s activity in the ecological sphere in working with industrial (non-radioactive) waste, mentioned the topic of sanctions and the problems of recent years. After discussing the difficulties of logistics during the pandemic, he described the problems of the war year of 2022 as follows: And of course, the events of the past year – an unthinkable, indescribable, unlawful number of sanctions and restrictions.” Nevertheless, says Likhachev, these difficulties have not affected solving the corporation’s main tasks.

Commentary by Bellona:

Rosatom’s activity in Russia is being redirected towards manufacturing import-substituting spare parts, and also manufacture of equipment for NPPs which it builds abroad. Evidently, this is focused on maintaining Rosatom’s foreign image as the main builder of NPPs outside its own territory, and as a way of overcoming the complex situation connected with the war and sanctions, and the uncertain future of the Russia nuclear industry on foreign markets.

At the same time, Rosatom is promoting its image as the most active environmental company in Russia through its projects realized as part of the “Ecology” national project. Rosatom was one of the most active participants of the X Nevsky International Ecological Congress, where among other things it presented a project on monitoring the environmental situation in the Arctic.

The impact of sanctions on building nuclear-powered icebreakers

On 25 May, the court of arbitration of St. Petersburg and the Leningrad Oblast ruled in favor  of the Baltic Shipyard (Baltiysky Zavod) in the lawsuit filed against the company Wärtsilä Solutions Oy for €5.1 million. On 16 May, the court suspended proceedings on another lawsuit filed by the Baltic Shipyard against Wärtsilä (represented by the company Wärtsilä Oyj Abp) for the sum of 469.3 million rubles. The Baltic Shipyard press service reported that both disputes with the Finnish company arose because the company did not provide equipment for construction of the ice-breakers Yakutia and Chukotka, although the client had made an advance payment.

yakutia icebreaker The launching of the Yakutia nuclear icebreaker at the Baltic Shipyard on November 22, 2022. Credit: Baltic Shipyard

In November 2022, Vedomosti, citing a representative of the Baltic Shipyard who wished to remain anonymous, wrote that Wärtsilä was supposed to provide them with sets of equipment for the line of shating – reserve diesel generators and stern gears (a set of devices for torque transmission from the ship engine to the propeller screw).

In July 2022, Wärtsilä announced that it had completed the process of leaving the Russian market, after stating in April 2022 that it was closing down its activities in connection with the sanctions that were levied when the war in Ukraine began.

According to a representative of the Baltic Shipyard, at the moment the lawsuits were filed, the company was looking for options for import substitution of the required equipment. It was believed that the Baltic Shipyard would be able to manufacture stern gears itself, and would attract another supplier of diesel generators.

At the end of April 2022, Vyacheslav Ruksha, Director of the Northern Sea Route Directorate, told journalists that construction of serial nuclear-powered ice-breakers under project 22220 (“Arctic”) was going to plan, and their localization in the Russian Federation exceeded 90%.

We hope that the third serial (icebreaker- note by Bellona) will be ready in December 2024, the fourth in December 2026, the fifth in December 2028, and the sixth in December 2030,” Ruksha said.

At the same time, on 28 April, the development plan of the Northern Sea Route for the period up until 2035, first approved in August 2022, was altered, primarily concerning issues of providing necessary equipment for construction of the icebreaker fleet vessels. This concerns monitoring equipment for ice-breaker fleet vessel construction, freight vessels of the ice class, vessels of the emergency rescue fleet; preparation for manufacturing the most important equipment required for building ships, production of which is not carried out in the Russian Federation and friendly countries; and financing measures for building new competitive vessel equipment.

Commentary by Bellona:

The court proceedings and writing off of Russian assets for Wärtsilä, and previously for  Fennovoima in connection with the suspension of the Hanhikivi NPP project, show the deep ties between Finnish and Russian companies in the nuclear sphere. These ties are now being broken with considerable difficulty and with losses for both sides in the ongoing conflict between Russia and the West. Substituting Finnish components may potentially lead to delays in construction and a reduction in the quality and reliability of vessels and icebreakers of the “Atomflot”.

Rosatom and the Baltic Shipyard (Baltiysky Zavod) sign contract to build multifunctional nuclear service vessel

Rosatomflot (enterprise of the Rosatom state corporation) and the Baltic Shipyard (part of the United Shipbuilding Corporation) have signed a contract to build  a multifunctional nuclear technology service vessel (MNSV project 22770). It can load and unload nuclear fuel from reactor units of nuclear icebreakers, as well as the Akademik Lomonosov floating nuclear power plant (FNPP), and in the future modernized floating power units (FPU). Construction is planned in compliance with the Development Plan of the Northern Sea Route in the period up until 2035. According to Russian deputy ministry of industry and trade Viktor Yevtukhov, completion is scheduled for 2029. MNSV project 22770 will be carried out to replace the Imandra nuclear service vessel of project 1948 which is currently in operation.

MNSV is designed to carry out the following technological operations: unloading of spent nuclear fuel from the reactor units of ships in service; loading of fresh nuclear fuel into the reactor units of ships in service; acceptance, storage and distribution of liquid radioactive waste generated during the operation of ship reactor units, as well as in the process of refueling; cooling of spent fuel elements in order to reduce residual heat releases; loading of cooled spent fuel elements into shipping containers for transfer for recycling; decontamination of removable equipment of ship reactor plants and refueling equipment.

mutli-service ship Project 22770 Multifunctional Nuclear Service Vessel Credit: : Iceberg Сentral Design Bureau

Commentary by Bellona:

The new nuclear service vessel should play an important role in processes for treating highly hazardous nuclear materials in the Arctic region in the coming decades, given Russia’s extensive plans for stationing nuclear facilities there both at sea and on land.

The replacement of the outdated vessel “Imandra” with a new one may improve the situation, although current sanction restrictions and Russia’s lack of access to foreign programs of partner support and technologies may have a negative impact on realization of this project, on the quality and timeframe of vessel construction, and as a consequence, may negatively affect issues of nuclear safety in realizing other nuclear projects in the Arctic – servicing nuclear icebreakers and floating NPPs.

Rosatom signs contract for delivery of natural uranium to Brazil

At the Nuclear Trade and Technology Exchange International Conference (NT2E), organized by the Brazilian Association for the Development of Nuclear Activities (ABDAN), the Brazilian state company Indústrias Nucleares do Brasil (INB) signed a contract with the  affiliated company of Rosatom Tenex (Tekhsnabexport, Russian exporter of nuclear materials) for the purchase of natural uranium. In December 2022, INB had already signed a contract with the German branch of the company Tekhsnabexport, Internexco GmbH, to provide 100% of the needs of the Angra NPP in the period from 2023 to 2027. Under the contract, Internexco will deliver 330 tons of uranium hexafluoride to Brazil and carry out uranium enrichment of over 1 million SWU (separative work units, the standard unit of measurement for the energy required to separate the U235 and U238 uranium isotopes in enrichment processes).

Commentary by Bellona:

Almost one and a half years since Russia invaded Ukraine, Rosatom continues to play an important role on international nuclear markets. With the lack of international sanctions on deliveries of Russian uranium production, the company continues to win international tenders for new long-term contracts and deliveries.

Rosatom’s international projects. A survey of events.

Egypt. On 3 May at the site of the El Dabaa NPP in Egypt, the “first concrete” was poured   for the foundation of power unit No. 3. Construction on the third power unit has moved to the main stage. It is planned to build four power units with VVER-1200 reactors at the site, and active construction of three units began in autumn 2022. It is expected that the first concrete will be poured at the fourth unit before the end of 2023.

Belarus. On 13 May, Unit 2 of the Belarussian NPP at a reactor capacity of 40% of nominal capacity was for the first time synchronized with the grid, and contributed the first kilowatt-hours of electricity to the united energy system of the Republic of Belarus. On 19 May, the capacity of the VVER-1200 reactor was increased from 40 to 50%. After the completion of planned tests at a reactor capacity level of 50%, on 27 March Unit 2 was connected to the grid. This stage involves gradually increasing the capacity of the unit to the nominal level of 100%, with dynamic tests in various working modes with a shutdown of the main equipment, including a test of the complete unit shutdown mode. The unit is planned to be put into industrial operation in autumn 2023.

Meanwhile, the Lithuanian State Nuclear Power Safety Inspectorate (VATESI) on 25 May sent a letter to the Belarussian Ministry of Emergency Situations (MES), which acts in Belarus as nuclear safety regulator. The letter calls to suspend operation of Unit 1 and the commissioning of Unit 2 of the Belarussian NPP until all safety issues are resolved.

Among others, VATESI requests clarification of the information published in the public domain concerning the contamination of the cooling loops of Units 1 and 2 and deficiencies in fixing the reactor vessel of Unit 1, as well as detected defects and outstanding work. Copies of this letter were also sent to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the European Commission, the chairs of the European Nuclear Safety Group (ENSREG) and the Western European Nuclear Safety Regulators Association (WENRA).

Kyrgyzstan. On 9 May at a meeting with the President of the Kyrgyz Republic Sadyr Zhaparov, Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin announced that Russia plans to develop a new program for the recultivation of uranium legacy sites until 2023.

In 2023, according to plan the realization of the program “Recultivation of territories of states impacted by uranium-mining industry” will be completed, which was launched in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) in 2013, with four nations sharing financing of the program – Russia (75%), Kazakhstan (15%), Kyrgyzstan (5%) and Tajikistan (5%). The coordinator and client for realizing the program on behalf of Russia is the Rosatom state corporation. The estimated cost of the program came to around 2.4 billion rubles (2021).

Zhaparov Mishustin President of the Kyrgyz Republic Sadyr Zhaparov (left) and Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin (right) on May 9, 2023 in Moscow. Credit: Website of the Government of the Russian Federation

The main goals of its realization are reducing the risks of emergency situations with radio-ecological consequences in these countries, which have been impacted by the uranium mining and processing industry. From this standpoint, the most critical sites are the tailing facilities and places of surface burial of waste of the mining sector. The program envisages the recultivation of tailing facilities in the settlements of Min-Kush and Kadzhi-Sai in Kyrgyzstan, and in Tajikistan the Taboshar site was chosen.

On 15 March, 2023, the Rosatom Fuel Company TVEL, the Primary organization of CIS member nations for issues of eliminating the nuclear legacy, treatment of spent nuclear fuel, radioactive waste and decommissioning of nuclear and radiation hazardous sites, announced that it was completing recultivation for the industrial site of Taboshar in the town of Istiklol, at a cost of around 700 million rubles under the contract.

On 29 March 2023, the First Deputy Minister of Emergency Situations of the Kyrgyz Republic Azamat Mambetov reported that under the program, recultivation of the tailing sites of Kadzhi-Sai and Min-Kush was nearing completion. “Rosatom plans to allocate an additional 2.2 billion rubles to recultivating five tailings facilities located in the Osh, Jalal-Abad and Batken Regions,” said Mambetov.

Besides the CIS countries program, Kyrgyzstan also receives funds for recultivation from EU  countries. On 16 May, Kyrgyzstan and the Nuclear Safety department of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, which in 2015 founded The Environmental Remediation Account for Central Asia (ERA), signed an agreement on a grant for 23 million Euros, which will help to stabilize over 2 million cubic meters of radioactive tailings facilities located along the Mailuu-Suu River.

China. On 15 May, TVEL delivered Russian equipment for nuclear fuel production to the Yibin plant in the Sichuan province in China. The equipment is designed for a production line to manufacture Russian TVS-2M nuclear fuel for VVER-1000 reactors. At present, four units with reactors of this type operate in China at the Tianwan NPP (Jiansu province). Fuel for VVER-1000 reactors has been manufactured at the Yibin plant under license from TVEL since 2009.

Iran. On 17 May, Russian deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak told journalists that Russia and Iran had regulated issues on the debt to Rosatom for construction of the Bushehr NPP, and that realization of the project is continuing. Novak noted that at present the further mechanism for financing the project is being discussed, using different currencies, budget or commercial loans. In 2022, Novak announced that Iran had paid Russia part of the debt for construction of the Bushehr NPP in late 2021 and early 2022. This debt was discussed as early as summer 2021, when the head of the organization for nuclear energy of Iran Ali Akabar Salehi stated: “At present we owe Russia 500 million Euros [for work on building the Bushehr-2 NPP]. As for the Bushehr-1 NPP, which is now generating electricity, we have not yet paid the Russian side for the fuel,” the agency ISNA quoted him as saying.

Construction of the Bushehr NPP units is considered to be a major Russian-Iranian project. The first unit of the NPP, completed with Russia’s involvement, was connected to the Iranian national grid in September 2011. Construction of the second unit is underway and a contract has been signed to build a third unit.

Construction of Unit 2 officially began in autumn 2019. In late 2021, in an interview with RIA Novosti, the Vice-President of the Islamic Republic of Iran and President of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) Mohammad Eslami said that at present the ground was being reinforced at the site of Unit 3 as part of preparations for laying the concrete for the foundation. The project for building Units 2 and 3 of the Bushehr NPP is planned to take 10 years. Additionally, Moscow delivers Teheran nuclear fuel that the Unit 1 reactor requires for operation. The last delivery of Russian fuel took place on 29 April 2020.

Commentary by Bellona:

Rosatom is the leader among world companies for construction of NPPs abroad. Recently every operation, even insignificant ones, which have been carried out by Rosatom at various foreign sites, have been widely covered in the Russian media. For example, the Rosatom information resources report the completion of welding the circulation pipeline at the Belarussian NPP, installing transport portal beams at the Ruppur NPP, delivery of equipment for a production line in China, etc. Rosatom is trying to enter major projects in former Central Asian republics of the Soviet Union.

Bellona believes that this shows that foreign projects are a very important priority for Rosatom. The state corporation is losing its position in Europe, so it will probably seek opportunities in the Middle East, and possibly also in Africa.

Rosatom head announces final stage of work on eliminating the nuclear legacy in the Arctic. But this is not true.

On 25 May at the X Nevsky International Ecological Congress, during a discussion of issues concerning preserving the ecology of the Arctic and Antarctic, the general director of Rosatom stated that the Arctic had become the main focus of Rosatom’s competencies. In the early 2000s, works  began on dealing with problems of the nuclear legacy, including the disposal of spent nuclear fuel and reactors of nuclear submarines. “Today we are practically at the final stage of this work, returning territories to public use,” Likhachev said.

Also describing the situation of monitoring the ecological situation in the Arctic, the head of Rosatom said that “in this work, until a certain time, for certain reasons, a number of neighboring countries took part: Norway, Finland. Now these interests are being replaced by specialists from other countries – China, India, Egypt – because they are also interested in the situation in the Arctic, and in the technologies that we use for control and monitoring, because they also have their major logistic routes and their own major concerns about the ecological agenda.”

Commentary by Bellona:

Since the 1990s, Bellona has been working on detecting and documenting nuclear and radiation risks in the Arctic zone of Russia, and based on its experience of many years, can confirm that Likhachev’s statement that works on eliminating the nuclear legacy in the Arctic are in their final stage do not correspond to reality. Furthermore, Likhachev’s words contradict previous statements by Rosatom that works on many sites will continue to the end of the current decade.

Issues that have not been solved at present, and sites requiring conversion to a safe state, include around 11,000 rods of spent nuclear fuel in the Andreeva Bay, two sunk nuclear submarines and over ten nuclear reactors and containers with radioactive waste sunk by the Soviet navy in the Kara and Barents Seas. Also unresolved are issues of safe storage of spent nuclear fuel and radioactive waste stored on vessels serving nuclear icebreakers.

Bellona has published detailed commentary disproving the statement by the head of Rosatom. It is available on our website.

andreyeva bay Storage of spent nuclear fuel in Andreeva Bay. Credit: : RosRAO archive

On 9 May, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists published an annual survey of Russia’s nuclear arsenal, “Nuclear Notebook: Russian nuclear weapons, 2023”, authored by employees of the Nuclear Information Project with the Federation of American Scientists: director Hans M. Kristensen, senior research associate Matt Korda and research associate Eliana Johns. The survey covers events of 2022, contains the latest data on the state of the strategic and non-strategic nuclear arsenal of Russia, the history of Russia’s suspension of the New START treaty, and a survey of various signals by the Russian leadership concerning the possible use of nuclear weapons in the war with Ukraine.

On 29 May, the State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate of Ukraine published the Report on the state of nuclear and radiation safety in Ukraine in 2022 . The report describes the situation at the Zaporizhzhya NPP, but information from the plant seized by Russia is only given up until 30 June 2022.

On 1 June Bellona published the report “The Radiation Risks of Seizing the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant”, with a survey of all possible emergency scenarios at the plant under the occupation, regular shelling and breakages of electricity lines, assessment of possible ecological consequences of these incidents, and a number of recommendations on aspects that require particular attention in the near future. The report also contains an analysis of the scenario of the destruction of the Kakhovka HPP dam, which unfortunately became a reality on 6 June 2023. Bellona’s assessments, conducted on the basis of Ukrainian stress tests, coincide with the current assessments of the situation by the IAEA, to the effect that this does not present a direct and immediate threat to the NPP, but increases risks of cooling problems in the medium- to long-term perspective.