Putin announces $1.77 billion for new reactor builds, and earmarks another $2billion for fast reactor production

Publish date: March 1, 2010

Written by: Charles Digges

NEW YORK – In conjunction with other large energy producers around the world, most notably the United States, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has just tabled a proposal to pump $1.77 billion into its nuclear industry to fund new plants, Russian news agencies have reported.

The government infusion comes quickly on the hells of the announcement that Rosatom, Russia’s state nuclear corporation, will be proceeding with the controversial Baltic Nuclear Power Plant in the Russian enclave of Kalliningrad, between Lithuania and Poland.

Washington also announced last week that it would supply some $8.3 billion in loan guarantees – to eventually grow to $54 billion – for a build out of nuclear power plants in the United States predicated on the idea that nuclear power produces no CO2 emissions.

Putin announced that the $1.77 billion of federal funding for a new domestic build at a meeting on investment in the Russian power industry two days after the US President Barack Obama declared that the United States would also be building nulclear power plants.

The Russian government’s $1.77 billion is part of an investment programme for Rosenergoatom, the utility that operates Russia’s 11 nuclear power plants which produce some 16 percent of the county’s energy consumption.

The investment programme in Rostenergoatom is part of company’s investment plan for the year, worth a total of $5.45 billion, including some $3.39 billion for new nuclear power plant construction, with almost half of this funding coming from Roenergoatom itself, World Nuclear News, industry internet publication, reported.

Medvedev supports nuclear for different reasons

At the same time Putin has been stumping his funding for nuclear power in Russia, Presidet Dmitry Medvedev chatted up energy efficiency and emissions cuts for his country in a meeting with the ministers of his government.

The meeting with Medvedev was a follow up on the UN climate summit held in Copenhagen in December where he laid out a promise to cut Russia’s emissions to 25 percent under 1990 levels by 2020. The Kremlin website reported that he had reiterated this promise in the course of the meeting.

The goal is one easily met by Russia, whose emissions in 1990 plummeted as the Soviet Union collapsed, bringing industry to a standstill, and thereby slashing the counties emission such that they are even today 35 percent below 1990 levels.

But Medvedev both at Copenhagen and in his recent meeting was vague about how he would keep emissions down. His most recent remarks mirrored previous ones in which he laid heavy reliance on the business community to adopt environmentally friendly practices – but nothing more specific.

Yet it had been widely understood, even prior to Copenhagen, that many nations would eventually begin to speak of a nuclear renaissance to meet their emissions cuts goals, although the topic was spoken of by the 190-some leaders present at the summit in muted tones, if at all.

Nuclear no fix for climate change


Indeed, a posting of a speech given by Medvedev on prior to his appearance in Copenhagen in which he indicated that his country would be increasing its dependence on its decrepit nuclear infrastructure elicited rotten tomatoes from environmental observers.

The outcry against the remarks, which were first widely reported by Bellona Web and the Russsia environmental group Ecodefence, were so unpopular that Medvedev yanked them from his eventual speech to the plenary session at the Copenhagen summit.

All the same, it remained no secret in Copenhagen that many countries would be reaching for the nuclear ring to live up to the self-impossed reductions goals the final accord urged each country to make by January 31.

In Washington, this has been especially apparent as Obama has spoken out strongly in favour of nuclear power builds in recent days to entice Republican Congressmen to support his foundering climate bill, which has been lodges in a Senate impasse for  

As a counterpoint, Putin, who has been a long time supporter of Russian nuclear projects – from nuclear power plants to waste imports – as giant money-spinners. In his remarks doling out the $1.77 billion for nuclear power plant construction he, did not indulge the classical retort that nuclear power plants would cut greenhouse gas emissions.

In 2001, Putin signed a raft of bills allowing foreign spent nuclear fuel to be sent to Russia ostensibly for reprocessing. Other deals with Germany’s Urenco and France’s Eurodif to ship highly radioactive uranium tails for reprocessing to Russia were also allowed to persist under Putin’s watch.

According to statistics compiled by Ecodefence, nearly 90 percent of the waste imported to Russia under these reprocessing deals has remained in Russia, much of it stored in the open air.

Fast reactor production

As well as the funding for new power plant reactor construction, the Russian government has confirmed a development programme in which the development of fast neutron reactors will be a priority over the next decade, WNN reported. Fast reactors, a dicey proposition in the eyes of many experts, are reactors that can be fuelled by elements of the waste they produce.

The programme calls for the continuation of the existing sodium-cooled fast reactor plan for units of about 800 MWw, and the construction of a100MWe lead-bismuth-cooled fast reactor called the SVBR by 2015.  This is planned to be followed by a lead-cooled 300MWe BREST fast reactor by 2020 – a sort of holy grail in the Russian nuclear industry that has so far only existed on paper.

Russia’s total budget for fast reactors by 2020 is slated at $2 billion, the lion’s share of that coming from the federal budget, WNN reported. According to the Kremlin, the fast reactor programme will boost by 70 percent the export of high technology equipment.