Comment: The Baltic nuclear power plant in the very long perspective

Publish date: October 24, 2008

Written by: Vladimir Slivyak

Translated by: Charles Digges

MOSCOW- The Russian enclave of Kaliningrad yesterday heard a presentation on Russian state nuclear corporation Rosatom’s plans to build the Baltic Nuclear Power Plant (NPP) – a project that is unlikely to see the light of day within the foreseeable future. But the current world financial crunch could change the situation altogether – Rosatom is already correcting its plans for the new plant.

St. Petersburg’s state reactor building firm, Atomenergoproekt, on Friday presented its plans for the nuclear station in the Kaliningrad administration building, a plant Rosatom wants to build somewhere in Russia’s Northwest. According ot industry releases, the presentation was geared toward “presenting the fundamental parameters of the future NPP.”  Considering that the official project for the nuclear station in the Kaliningrad region has not even been developed, it can be assumed that its presenters had to introduce a little bit of fantasy into their presentation. AS concerns the “fundamental parameters,” Rosatom already presented these earlier this year as being two VVER-1200 reactors at a cost of €5 billion.

Despite the fact that regional authorities arrange these presentations on the Baltic NPP, none of the official decisions to build this, as before, actually exist at a federal level. According to Russia’s federal law “On the use of nuclear energy (article 9)” the authority of the Russian government consists of “making decisions on designing, construction and decommissioning of nuclear installations.” In this way, the Baltic NPP presently is an unconfirmed plan that is little more than a mutually shared wish of Rosatom head Sergei Kiriyenko and Kaliningrad Region Georgy Boos, addressed to the Russian government. Considering the break out of a world financial crisis, satisfying this wish may hit some unexpected barriers.

The world financial crisis is not only impacting the price of oil, but has already brought serious changes to previously set in stone development plans for Russian industry. As such, Rosatom has announced it will be “correcting” a minimum of two new NPP projects. On September 26th, a Rosatom official leaked to Russian media that plans to finish building the fifth reactor block of the Kursk NPP – which was planned to be finished on the plant’s resources – will require a pool of private investors and an additional 27 billion roubles ($992 million) on top of that.  The crisis has also touched another project – the construction of a reactor at the Balakovskaya NPP to power the Rusal Russian aluminum giant. On October 21st, Rosatom  deputy chief Alexander Lokshin said that Rosatom “expects corrections in projects with Rusal in the construction of the Balkovksaya NPP in the Saratov region as a result of the financial crisis.”

No matter how much experts close to the nuclear industry try to calm the public, existing plans for NPP construction will be subject to significant changes as a result of the financial crisis. At a minimum, reactor construction will be severely delayed, which will drive up their price tags – and that’s just the beginning. It is highly unlikely that in such a situation the government will begin adding funds to new nuclear power plant development programmes, like, for example, the Baltic NPP.

The Baltic NPP project is environmentally dangerous, ambiguous from an economic point of view (even pro-nuclear pundits are saying that it provides a political rather than economic advantage) and is unpopular with 67 percent of surveyed Kaliningraders, according to a poll conducted by the Kaliningrad Social Centre in 2007).

Implementing the Baltic NPP project might lead to the creation of a long term storage site for nuclear waste, and not just for the plant’s own use. At the same time, the Kaliningrad Region is ripe for renewable energy projects, specifically wind power.

Developing this potential in conditions of equal investment from the government won’t be any more expensive than a nuclear power plant, and would never lead to a nuclear accident or the appearance of radioactive waste dump sites. Moreover, uranium deposits are expected to dry up over the next few decades, but wind is inexhaustible, and it doesn’t have to be imported to the region across several borders. Could it really be so that Governor Boos has never taken this into consideration?

Vladimir Slivyak, co-chair of Ecodefence, is a frequent contributor to Bellona Web.