Kaliningrad meets nuke industry to discuss the phantom Baltic NPP amid dazzling atomic sideshow

frontpageingressimage_ingressimage_laes_2_5-1..jpg Photo: atomstroiexport

The day was accompanied by its share of fanfare for the nuclear industry, however. The regional government, headed by pro-nuke governor Georgy Boos, put up an exhibit entitled “The Nuclear Renaissance.”

In the absences of any federal decision to actually build the Baltic NPP, it was clear that the PR machine has been cranked into high gear, both in Kaliningrad and in the neighboring Baltic republic that separate Kaliningrad from Russia.

There were also official announcements from the administration’s press service that: “The general contractor for the development of nuclear power station construction in the Kaliningrad Region, the St. Petersburg based Atomenergoproekt , will conduct a presentation of the (Baltic NPP) project.”

It is not possible however to present something that is not there, and the public was treated to a presentation on the suggested development of an institute called the “NPP-2006,” which is currently under construction at the Leningrad NPP 2. In the framework of that programme is included a project called “NPP- 91,” according to which the Tianwan NPP is being constructed in China.

“The Baltic NPP could be constructed as a serial project under the NPP 2006 project of the LNPP 2 type, if the corresponding decisions are taken,” said, correctly, the chief Atomstroiexport engine on the project, Ivan Grabelnikov, in his Friday presentation.

Alexander Zakharov, head of Atomstroiexport’s technical wing, also didn’t substitute the imaginary for reality. “We will gladly take part in a tender and construct the Baltic NPP if the decision is taken,” he said.

The statements reflect the invalid nature of an August 13th document signed by Rosatom chief Sergei Kiriyenko, “On the organization of work for the construction of the Baltic NPP,” in which the builder and the designer are named as Energoatom and Atomstroiexport. Such a decree has to be accompanied by the approval of the Russian Government, which alone, according to existing legislation, decides whether to build nuclear installations.

Zahkarov of Atomstroiexport, which is building the Tianwan NPP, as well as leading reactor construction in India and Iran, the actions of the nuclear industry is multifaceted, said, “The customer lacks the normative base and regulatory organs – we plan to create them.”  

Perhaps by the legerdemain of Governor Boos, Kaliningrad will be transformed into a fiefdom of Rosatom.

Suffering fools

For the time being, the hypothetical designers and builders of the hypothetical NPP told Kaliningrad reporters about their prototypes: the Leningrad 2 NPP that is under construction and the Tianwan plant that went into service last year.

Nuclear industry officials told their Kalinigrad audience that the Tianwan plant is among the most contemporary in the world and that all of the delays and tie-ups that have already occurred are the result of “Chinese engineers just barked up a couple of the wrong tress and, burning out contact, shorting out schemes.”  

Zakharov commented to Bellona Web on the fact that the first block of  the Tianwan plant was shut down 10 minutes after it was first launched because of quibbles with the equipment expressed by the customer.

“The customer was not only interested in the equipment, but is intrusively interested in its installation,” said Zakharov.

Where are the guarantees that Kaliningrad engineers wont find themselves barking up a similarly wrong tree? This means that no matter how complete the safety of a nuclear reactor, no matter what generation you call it, no matter what defences from plane crashes and natural cataclysms you install, there still is no defence from the so called human factor, neither at the Tianwan plant nor at – as was euphemistically put by an Atomstroiexport representative – “unprecedented new developments in a new nuclear power plant.”

The coming of a ‘new life’
Kaliningrad media was, however, interested only in strictly local and strictly concrete information: where, when and what kind of NPP was going to be built in the region, and what use it will serve. As none of the presenters knew that information, the presentation of the Baltic NPP sat poorly with those who where invited to it.

At one point, Alexander Rolbinov, the regional minister of infrastructure development, took initiative in his own hands and announced that a declaration of intention would be signed between Rosatom and the regional government on December 1st.

“Then, all parameters of the construction of an NPP in the Kaliningrad region will be conclusively defined, including its location,” Rolbinov said.

Mutation and the ‘strongest taxpayer’
As has been earlier announced, it is assumed that the NPP will be built near the Nemansky or the Krasnoznamensky regions.

“The region will get a new life,” said Rolbinov, apparently not taking into account the mutagenic results of radiation, but rather the planned satellite city for the NPP. Rolbinov also said that new jobs would come to the region, as well as “the strongest taxpayer.”

“Firstly, this means more that a thousand highly paid work positions, from which we will receive corresponding income taxes,” said Rolbinov. “Secondly, a new city will appear, which will command a high investment potential, with a population of some 25,000 to 30,000 residents.”

Nuclear promises

Russian ecologists have often pointed out the deplorable conditions in cities that are hosts to nuclear installations. In October, Greenpeace conducted research on the socio-economic results of the construction and use of a nuclear power plant in Udomlya, the city that hosts the Kalin NPP –which cheerleaders for the Baltic NPP hold up as an example of the fulfilled nuclear dream.

“Rosatom promised the heads of  the administration that it will solve many social and economic problems, that it will put considerable effort and funds into infrastructure development,” said Vladimir Chuprov, head of Greenpeace Russia’s energy department. “The problem is that these promises remain just that – promises.”

In the list of these unfulfilled Rosatom promises to Udomlya: construction of water intake and purification facilities, as well as electrical lines from the plant for Udomlya’s energy needs. The city actually receives its powers from a different part of the Tver Region that is located 70 kilometers from the plant, the Greenpeace study revealed. The Udomlya administration says that the NPP lacks required population defence systems in the event of a catastrophe accompanied by large amounts of fallout.

Manholes that resemble cesspools, half-collapsed houses, wrecked roads, emergency heat pipelines, houses that are heated by dismantled picket fences – this is the nuclear landscape of the nuclear industry.  It’s a picture that differs from the accounting of the Kaliningrad Regional Parliament’s deputies, who visited Udomlya in March, and who carried back with them the most favorable impressions and a “satisfaction with the level of defence.”  

Meanwhile, Rosatom’s promises are not just a gesture of good faith: According to Russian legislation, 10 percent of the cost of building a nuclear power plant must be earmarked for the social living conditions surrounding them.

“From the point of view of tax receipts, the creation of jobs, the guaranteeing of radiation safety, the presence of a nuclear power plant does not change the life of a municipality for the better,” Greenpeace recently wrote in an open letter to administrations of cities where Rosatom plans to build nuclear power plants. “ In many circumstances, a worsening of the local community’s condition is observed. In conjunction with Atomenergoprom’s structure (Russia’s umbrella nuclear conglomerate) only a portion of nuclear workers taxes are spent locally,” said Greenpeace.  

Rosatom’s fun house mirror

Despite an absolutely one-sided presentation of information, Kaliningraders themselves are critical of the nuclear industry and the regional administration’s assurances that building a nuclear power plant is a benefit to the region’s economics or communities. According to the results of a poll conducted in March 2008, only a third of Kaliningraders are behind the construction of the NPP.

The bonhomie between the Kaliningrad administration and Rosatom, however, is so strong that Kaliningrad came in second, after Moscow, in an exhibit entitled “Nuclear Renaissance: A photo chronicle,” which opened in a Kaliningrad art gallery on Thursday.  Over a dozen of these photos adorn the walls of the corridors of Kaliningrad’s administration building.

Galina Raguzina

ragunna@gmail.com

Charles Digges