Ecological groups call for investors to boycott finishing Kursk reactor

Kursk NPP

Publish date: October 19, 2008

Written by: Vladimir Slivyak

Translated by: Charles Digges

MOSCOW – Rosatom, Russia’s state nuclear corporation, has announced a call for private investors to complete the construction of the Kursk Nuclear Power Plant’s contentious Chernobyl style RMBK No. 5 reactor block.

The construction of the reactor began 22 years ago, and is, at present, some 65 to 70 percent finished. According to independent estimates, some $4 billion dollars have been spend since 1986 on the construction of the Kursk NPP’s No. 5 reactor block. Rosatom has now announced via Russian media that another billion plus dollars will be required to complete the reactors’ construction.

According to a poll taken by the ROMIR agency in December 2007, 67 percent of the Kursk Region’s population is against completing the construction of the Kursk NPP’s No. 5 block. Nonetheless, Rosatom head Sergei Kiriyenko has already long forgotten his words concerning the necessity of positive public support for new nuclear power plants in Russia. After all, he swore he would build no new stations without the approval of the population. Like Yeltsin once laid down on a railroad track…

In late September, the Ecodefence environmental group issued a call to private investors to take public opinion, and the extreme danger of the RBMK-1000 reactor into account, and refuse to finance completing the construction of the Kursk NPP’s No. 5 reactor block. It is only possible to attract investors whose capital has a direct connection to the state to such projects, because then it is possible to whisper in their ear about where they should invest in correspondence with state interests. A real private investor would hardly go along with as risky step like investing the construction of a nuclear power plant – Russia has many other rapid methods to multiply capital. On average, the return from investing in a nuclear power plant is about 20 years, unless, of course, the government doesn’t give the money back early for some reason. Rosatom is currently talking about the return time being around 12 to 15 years – and this for a nuclear power plant that is r two thirds built and subsidised by the government.

The Russian business is listing as potential investors aluminum giant Rusal, tycoon Oleg Deripaska’s Base Element, and Renova Vekselberg. However, this list appeared most likely as a result of these companies’ past cooperation with Rosatom. In reality, it looks like none of the journalists know what investors Rosatom is speaking with. The events of recent years have if anything taught that Rosatom frequently passes off wishes as reality.

What does Rosatom want to finish building?
At present, the Kursk NPP is working on four reactors that are analogous to the one that exploded at Chernobyl in 1986. Regardless of the fact that the RBMK-1000 has a series of irreparable flaws, which can lead to a serious nuclear accident. Rosatom had undertaken nothing to decommission these reactors. On the other hand, RBMKs have been shut down in Ukraine, and the first block of Lithuania’s RBMK-powered Ignalina Nuclear power plant was taken our of service in 2004 and the second is planned for shut down in 2009 – hopefully despite recent efforts and unresolved efforts by the Lithuanian government to prolong its life-span. The reason for taking them out of service are the inherent design flaws that make them unsafe. Rosatom assures us that the Chernobyl-type reactors have been modernized and their level of safety has increased. However, an accident destroying the active zone of such a reactor is just as possible now as it was in 1986. Frequent malfunctions in Russian RBMKs are reminders that these  reactors are extremely defective. Otherwise, why would it be that Rosatom is only building VVER-type reactors elsewhere?

RBMKs contain large quantities of graphite (about 1,700 tons). Heating graphite can make emergency situations much more acute because at high temperatures, graphite enters into a reaction with water, creating explosive hydrogen. The construction deficiencies of the RBMK can also be  attributed to: a positive coefficient of reaction and the effect of dehydration of the active zone; inadequately rapid reaction of emergency systems in conditions of a permissible decrease of reaction; an insufficient number of automatic technical means capable of bringing the reactor back to a safe condition under circumstances of violated operating regimens; a lack of technical means to for powering up and powering down parts of the reactor’s emergency defences; and the lack of a defensive encasement. Despite the fact that for the last 15 years many working RBMK reactor have been modernised, experts still doubt that the destruction of the active zone on a modernised reactor is impossible.