Rosatom Report: Moscow plans new private nuke plants across Russia

Publish date: October 27, 2006

Written by: Rashid Alimov

Translated by: Maria Kaminskaya

ST. PETERSBURG - A document obtained by the Russian environmental organisation Ekozashchita! reveals that the Russian Federal Atomic Energy Agency (Rosatom) is engaged in negotiations with regional authorities and investors on the construction of new nuclear power plants that will be owned by private hands across the country, including one near St. Petersburg.

Meanwhile, atomic lobbyists in the Russian parliament are paving the way toward nuclear industry privatisation.

“We received this document from a deputy with the State Duma, who is sympathetic with our work, but wished to remain anonymous,” Ekozashchita! co-chairman Vladimir Slivyak told Bellona Web.

The document is a report written jointly by Viktor Opekunov, a deputy of the lower house of the Russian parliament, the State Duma, and a Rosatom representative, Anna Belova.

The report, which was disclosed at an October 10th hearing of a select circle of Duma deputies, says that Rosatom is holding talks with regional administrations and investors to build new nuclear power plants (NPPs) near Kaliningrad, Chelyabinsk, Tomsk and in the Far East, and to build a second NPP in the Leningrad Region and St. Petersburg.

The report also outlines a draft bill for the privatisation of the atomic industry.

“Control over the NPPs, nuclear materials and repositories for radioactive waste may in time end up in the hands of private citizens and organisations that lack competence in nuclear safety and security issues,” Slivyak said.

Nuclear power plants are, indeed, “dangerous, unpopular, economically unprofitable without (state)

budget subsidies and vulnerable to terrorist attacks,”he said.

Bellona’s St. Petersburg office legal counsel, Nina Popravko, explained: “The state may lose what levers of control it has left over the nuclear field. What is suggested in this draft bill qualifies completely for the definition of privatisation spelled out in the Federal Law on Privatisation.”

She added that until recently, privatisation of sites related to the nuclear industry has been forbidden by a presidential decree No.2284 of December 24th 1993.

To own a nuclear plant
The gist of the suggested reform is to give Russia’s legal commercial entities the opportunity to acquire and own nuclear materials, waste and nuclear industrial sites, while making such sites joint stock companies.

These plans are detailed in the proposed bill entitled “On the particularities of disposition and management of property and stock by organisations engaged in the field of application of atomic energy (…).”

The report specifies that the bill, which is being lobbied by Rosatom through the Duma Subcommittee for Atomic Energy, chaired by Opekunov, “creates the legal conditions necessary for the nuclear materials, nuclear installations and repositories to be held (…) not only in federal ownership, but also in ownership of legal persons.”

Nuclear power plants a big political stick

But environmentalists fear that nuclear sites may become tools of influence in the hands of their owners both at a regional and the federal levels.

For instance, those regional leaders or so-called oligarchs who will be able to ensure that the legal entities associated with them make it into a cherry-picked presidential list, will have enough to gain a solid political footing – in fact, they will be nearly untouchable.

Such a reform will also make it possible to attract credits for the construction and operation of an NPP, while the state will be able to sell the stock at a later point – in such cases, for instance, when credit obligations have grown through the roof, as has happened in Great Britain.

“The whole plan is dubious not only from the political, but also from the economical point of view, especially when one takes the specifics of the Russian reality into account,” said Slivyak.

Indeed, one wonders whether, in the context of the weak state environmental supervision bodies and a legislative initiative to dismantle the institution of public environmental impact assessments, new Russian Mr. Burnses – the owner of the nuclear power plant on “The Simpsons” – will want to channel any money into ecological programmes intended for their nuclear plants.

Back-burner problems
The report frankly states that “where providing measures of nuclear, radioactive, anti-terrorist and environmental safety and security is concerned, there is a large volume of unattended problems solving which requires a systemic and complex approach.”

However, none of these problems would seem to preclude construction of new NPPs in the minds of atomic brains and their lobbying muscle in the Duma.

Nor would the fact that there is yet to be developed a completely safe technology for the disposal of nuclear waste, though research work has been in progress in over 50 years – a point that seems to be vaguely conceded by report authors, but that rings as a flat-out warning with Slivyak. At present, Russia has accumulated over 18,000 tonnes of spent nuclear fuel, as well as several dozen million cubic metres of radioactive waste.

“When the whole world applies huge efforts to developing alternative energy sources, Rosatom wants to force Russia to follow the old path, all too familiar from the example of Chernobyl,” concluded Slivyak.

Opekunov and Belova’s report is available on our website in PDF format Russian. To download the report, follow the "related topics" field at the right to "files." The full report is downlodable form there.

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