Floating nuclear power plants easy prey for terrorists

Publish date: July 8, 2005

Written by: Rashid Alimov

Russia’s branch of the environmental organisation Greenpeace has formally warned authorities that increased terrorist threats will make the floating nuclear power plants (FNPPs), which the Russian Agency for Atomic Energy (Rosatom) is currently planning for Southeast Asian customers, sitting ducks for possible terror attacks.

The notion of building floating nuclear power plants and selling them to countries like Indonesia, Thailand and China have been a pet project of Rosatom for many years. The Ministry for Atomic Energy, Rosatom’s successor, has long viewed floating nuclear power plants as a solution to bringing energy to far flung regions along Russia’s arctic coast and to other regions around the world. Environmentalists and many security experts have denounced the idea as sure ecological hazard and a target for terrorist organisations.

The Russian branch of Greenpeace addressed the Federal Security Service (FSB―the sucessor organisation to the KGB) with a request to ban the building FNPPs as their poor security makes them a “prime choice” for potential terrorist attacks. The Greenpeace report―released just hours before the tragic terrorist blasts in London on July 7th―was prepared for world leaders currently meeting at the Gleneagles, Scotland summit of the G8. The summit is making strides toward combating greenhouse gases, but is also viewing the expansion nuclear power as one possible solution to reduce their emissions.

Environmental groups like Bellona and Greenpeace are firmly opposed to the notion of substituting current energy sources with expanded nuclear power, especially when so many non-polluting renewable sources have not been sufficiently explored and because nuclear power represents incalculable risk to the environment and international security.

“Climate change cannot be solved by developing the nuclear industry. Moreover, every nuclear object is a target for terrorism”, Vladimir Chuprov of Greenpeace Russia told Bellona Web.
At present Rosatom is implementing the FNPP construction of project on a lease-to-own basis―provided the plants are never transferred to a new owner―to countries in Southeast Asia.

The FNPPs are designed to have a 70-megawatt capacity and are based on the reactor type used in Soviet icebreakers. Licenses for the reactors were issued by the Russian nuclear safety service—FSETAN, the successor of Gozatomnadzor―in December 2004.

Thailand and Indonesia have demonstrated a keen interest in FNPPs. Negotiations about financing the project — a $150m loan from China — are currently underway in Beijing. In October 2003 Rosatom signed a Protocol of Cooperation with South Korea for the potential purchase of an FNPP as well.

Enriched weapon-grade uranium (containing 40 percent uranium-235) is the fuel used for FNPPs According to engineering standards, some 960 kilograms of uranium will be stored at each floating plant.

“Exploitation of FNPPs in Southeast Asian countries without intensified security measures―the project does not provide for the armed escort of Russian navy for the whole term of their exploitation―creates a serious threat of terrorism and piracy on the high seas”, reads the address sent by Greeenpeace Russia to the FSB.

“Even if there were any armed escort, there is no 100 percent guarantee of plants’ protection.”

In its report to the FSB, Greenpeace refers to a long list of terrorist groups, active in Southeast Asian countries, which they based on a report by the US Department of State entitles “Global Terrorism in 2003,” as well as a report on the same by the Russia’s General Prosecutor’s Office 2003.

“This project is clearly a risky venture,” says Bellona’s Alexander Nikitin, a former Russia’s Navy nuclear submarines inspector turned environmentalist.

“Safety shouldn’t be neglected for the profits Rosatom wants to get from selling the FNPPs to the troubled regions. Such Rosatom activities simply violate the idea of non-proliferation.”

Under a 1992 agreement, Russia as a member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, is banned from selling nuclear technology to states that do not submit to international controls of the International Atomic Energy Agency. In Nikitin’s opinion, leasing the FNPPs to the Southeast Asian countries doesn’t solve the problem, as it would be difficult to ensure their security in such conditions.

According to the Greenpeace, there are three likely terrorist scenarios that could be perpetrated again FNPPs:

1. Destruction of the containment of an FNPP and using nuclear materials from the plant as a “dirty bomb” for contaminating a locality possessing an FNPP.
2. Robbery of an FNPP in order to withdraw weapons uranium. The further route of the radioactive materials is hardly possible to trace. The uranium could then be transformed into a nuclear warhead, both in Russia or any other country of the world that has sufficient technology to do so.
3. Robbery of an FNPP to obtain radioactive materials for producing a “dirty bomb”.

In Russia, Rosatom plans to build experimental demonstrational FNPPs before selling them abroad and moor them at the Sevmash docks near Severodvinsk in the Arkhangelsk Region in Russia’s Northwest and at a nuclear submarine base at Vilyuchinsk in the Kamchatka region in Russia’s far east.

The FNPP at Sevmash, which would float on a barge in the White Sea off Severodvinsk, should be ready by 2010, according to Rosatom spokesman, Nikolay Shingaryov. Rosatom decided to start constructing a floating nuclear power plant at Severodvinsk’s Sevmash shipyard in 2006. The construction schedule should be developed by October 21st 2005.

A November 2000 order by former Russian Nuclear Energy Minister Yevgeny Adamov required ordered the creation of all the documents needed for producing FNPPS and obtaining all necessary licences licenses. Now, the design works are completed, the licenses received, and the estimated cost of the project is about $175m. But according to Russian environmentalists, the actual sum will be higher.

The local Severodvinsk parliament plans to consider the problem of funding before the end of 2005, Regnum news agency reported this week. If the first FNPP project were successful, it is planned, that Sevmash will produce FNPPs to be transported in other regions, for example, at Vilyuchinsk.

Near Vilyuchinsk there are two geothermal plants, recently launched into operation, and this region — which earlier suffered from the lack of electricity — now has enough energy thanks to these plants.

But nonetheles, in 2004 the Vilyuchinsk head Alexander Markman and Yevgeny Kuzin, the head of Malaya Energetika, Ltd, signed a requirement specification for the project of mooring an FNPP at the Krasheninnikova bight of Avachinskaya bay near Vilyuchinsk.

Plans to moor an FNPP at Pevek in Chukotka have also been discussed, but a public environmental assesment, initiated in 2000 by local NGO Kaira-club, contained many errors and legal violations. That —and the lack of effective demand in the region — forced Rosatom abandon the Pevesk site.

“FNPPs in Russia’s White Sea would be a threat for the Arctic and the world’s ocean,” reads a separate report “Floating nuclear power plants in Russia” posted by Bellona Foundation on its web-site.

On June 30, at a round table in the State Duma, Russia’s lower house of parliament, Yevgeny Velikhov, head of the Kurchatov Institute, said that “installing a floating nuclear power plant may resolve regional energy problems. The European North, Eastern Siberia, and the Far East demand special attention."

The Greenpeace report to the FSB retorted that: “For Southeast Asian countries, the project with FNPPs will indicate a step toward militarization which will cause a negative impact on the economy of these countries and will worsen the foreign policy situation in the region.”

Greenpeace’s Chuprov added that: “Rosatom’s policy conflicts the position of the country’s leaders on combating terrorism. These actions of the nuclear lobby threaten the future of the country. Greenpeace calls to reject the project on construction of floating NPPs and to focus on development of renewable energy sources and energy saving,”

“It is better invest in solar and wind energy rather than produce time bombs”.

The Rosatom’s FNPPs project is the first project of this kind to be used in the civil sphere. Only the US Army once possessed a 10 megawatt FNPP called Sturgis that operated a MH-1A reactor mounted on the modified hull of a Liberty ship that was moored in the Panama Canal zone. Installed in 1968, its operation was ceased in 1976. The project proved to be ineffective due to high maintenance costs.