Environmentalists say that Gazprom’s equivocation may be due to the state-run oil and gas monopoly’s reluctance to be drawn into the quagmire that is Russia’s nuclear industry.
In March, environmental groups sent an appeal to the Shtokman Development AG company and its shareholders – Gazprom, France’s Total and Norway’s StatoilHydro – in which they expressed their concern over Gazprom’s intentions to use land bound and floating nuclear power plants to power oil and gas exploration in the field, which is thought to hold some 3.8 trillion cubic metres of gas and oil.
Gazprom was the only company of the three major shareholders to answer the letter, sent jointly by Bellona-Murmanks, Ecodefence and Murmansk’s Nature and Youth.
Gazprom’s official letter was signed by Alexander Ishkov, deputy head of Gazprom’s department for transport, underground usage and storage of gas and head of company’s energy efficiency and environmental department.
It read that: “Gazprom specialist and departmental engineering institutes have studied several variants for construction of sea-based (oil drilling) platforms and ways to power them, but floating nuclear power plants in the conditions of drifting ice floes and high waves during storms at sea have not been discussed.”
At the same time, the letter goes on to say the that use of floating nuclear power plants to power other related installations relevant to exploration and drilling are currently under consideration by Gazprom specialists.
“The decision about the application of floating nuclear power plants for extraction, transport and refinement of gas will be taken only after all sides have analysed the question,” Ishkov wrote.
Russian environmentalists say the Gazprom’s letter hardly addresses their concerns.
“Gazprom’s letter leaves many questions,” Ecodefence’s Andrei Ozharovsky told Bellona Web.
“Unfortunately, Gazprom wants neither to listen to the opinion of experts nor to take into account he opinion of the majority of the population, and continues to examine nuclear power stations as one possible energy source for its projects.”
Ozharovsky also noted that Gazprom’s official letter contained some puzzling assertions.
“Ishkov writes that the use of floating nuclear power plants at the Shtokman field has not been discussed, though it is well known to us that (Russian state nuclear corporation) Rosatom gave Gazprom a special presentation of floating nuclear power plant designs,” he said.
The denial that such negotiations have not taken place is all the stranger as Rosatom has for more than a year been hinting with all it might that such discussions were underway, publicising construction projects for floating nuclear power plants, said Ozharovsky adding that Gazprom is simply try not to comment at all.
“Gazprom representatives underscored that the possible use of floating nuclear power plants for other installations (relative to Shtokman field development ‘is being considered by specialists,’ meaning that the gas monopoly is not ruling out its participation in dangerous nuclear projects. Apparently, when one state energy monopoly – Gazprom – intends to support its competition – the nuclear energy monopoly and state corporation Rosatom, then it is conditioned not upon economic considerations,” said Ozharovsky.
According to him, Gazprom has been forced to support Rosatom in order to create an attractive image for the nuclear sector. Neither experimental floating reactors nor dangerous land based reactors can compete with contemporary steam and gas turbine power stations even if gas prices rise. This is clearest of all to Gazprom, but it is being forced to play ball with the nuclear industry.
Bellona’s Alexander Nikitin, who is head of the St. Petersburg-based Environmental Rights Centre Bellona, the notion of floating nuclear power plants is too fraught with holes to even consider.
“It is baselessly expensive and environmentally dangerous,” said Nikitin. “Rosatom has already spent plenty of money both on the construction of these plants and on advertising the idea. Rosatom has hinted at potential buyers, but in fact there aren’t any.”
It would seem that Rosatom is doing all it can to force Gazprom to acquire floating nuclear power plants. When nuclear power stations are built in Russia, they are build on government budget funds. Not even Russia’s wealthiest businesses have ever taken on the risk of investing their own funding in such projects.
“In the situation that is developing there is much that is not understandable, and this, above all, is the result of the fact that neither of the structures agree,’ said Andrei Zolotkov, chief of Bellona Murmansk.
“It seems that Rosatom has begun propagandistic preparation for the distribution of floating nuclear power plants everywhere, and is trying with all of its strength to bring Gazprom into it. It would be surprising if a commercial company would invest money in nuclear energy, from which the financial return is possible only after many years.”
Zolotkov said that there is not a single country in the world that uses nuclear power to develop oil fields located in continental shelf regions, and that nay floating installation with a nuclear reactor will be far riskier than a land-based reactor.