Russia re-enters nuclear age


Russian Ministry for Nuclear Energy, or Minatom, plans to launch a new nuclear power plant in Rostov County in late December. The last reactor in Russia was commissioned at Balakovo NPP back in 1993. The offensive plan driven by Minatom suggests building more that 20 new nuclear reactor units by 2020. The required investments for the coming 10 years are put at $14 billion. From the year 2010 and until 2020, $34.5 billion will be added to investments pored into the nuclear energy sector.

Rostov nuclear power plant is being built near the city of Volgodonsk in the Rostov region, not far from the troubled Caucasus. The original design of the plant was drawn in 1976. The project passed evaluation by the State Construction Company of the USSR in 1981. The construction itself was launched before the evaluation was over in 1979. The plant was designed to comprise four VVER-1000 units. By August 1990, the first reactor unit was 95% complete, while the completion of the second unit was 30%. But due to the protests, at that time by the Rostov regional soviet, the further construction was suspended. A new environmental impact study of the project was initiated. The study resulted in sending the project for review to implement safety upgrade recommendations. The study also limited the number of nuclear reactor units at the plant to two.

In the second stage of evaluation both state entities, headed by Minatom, and public expert committee were to participate. The two evaluations, one pro and one against the construction, were made available for the Federal Environmental Committee in August 1999. In February the same year, the project was given a green light.

The public expert committee, which included various local and national NGOs and experts, said, however, that their findings were not taken into consideration upon making the final decision. The Rostov NPP plan was mostly criticised on the grounds that it is sited in a seismically risky area, too near the Tsimlyansk reservoir. The heating water discharge from the plant was said to effect the surrounding environment. Finally, the project was drawn back in 70s and its inherited design flaws could not be corrected by modifications suggested and carried out by Minatom. The cost of the plant’s control systems upgrade was about $2.5 million.

Cossacks and PR campaign

The most prominent opponents to the commissioning of the plant were the local Cossacks’ communities. But Minatom has learned a lot during the past ten years of antinuclear protests and used cunning PR campaigns to turn the local population to favour the plant. The main argument was the looming economical benefits for the communities once the plant is in operation. In July this year, the administration of the plant reached a deal with a part of Cossacks, while the other communities threatened with protests should the plant be commissioned. A couple of years ago, the protests organised by NGOs and Cossacks resulted in sever clashes with police and employees of Rostov NPP.

Nevertheless, the expansion plans of Minatom can only be hampered by the lack of funding. The times when the local administrations and legislative bodies were green all over are in the past. The opposition to the plans is mounting among environmental NGOs. But Minatom has already invested considerable resources to suppress them, attempting to rank these practises to the level of Russia’s governmental policy.

Russia currently operates 9 nuclear power plants with 29 reactor.