Russian nuclear minister goes 100% commercial

Publish date: January 22, 2001

Written by: Igor Kudrik

Russian nuclear minister says nuclear energy production rate is higher than in the USSR, Chernobyl had no impact on people’s health and licensing functions must be taken away from the State Nuclear Regulatory.

The Russian minister for nuclear energy, Yevgeny Adamov, held a press conference on January 16th. The minister was to sum up the Russia’s nuclear energy achievements and plans for the next century, as well as talk about commercialisation of this industry branch.

First, the minister emphasised the positive changes which “accidentally coincided with the stepping down of the former minister” in 1998. In 2000, the Russian nuclear power plants produced 30 billion kW/h more than in 1998 without commissioning any extra reactor units. New Rostov nuclear power plant will be put in operation in February. Although it was ready to start on December 24th, Adamov said, but Russian Nuclear Regulatory, GAN, demanded additional adjustment to meet the safety requirements.

Among the other achievements Adamov mentioned electricity rate production higher than in the Soviet times, contracts for six reactor units construction abroad, 3600 new specialists entering the industry, salary ($155 per month) twice higher than average in Russia. The last year also scored a record on the number of nuclear submarines defuelling: spent nuclear fuel was taken from 17 subs, while it was only two to three subs unloaded per year during the previous years.

The minister calculated that the constant increase of electricity production at the nuclear power plants will allow to save 105 billion cubic meters of gas, to support his argument that the nuclear energy must be developed in Russia in order to save gas for exports.

No health impact from Chernobyl disaster

Yevgeny Adamov mentioned the sad 15-year anniversary of Chernobyl disaster and quoted some medical statistics. The minister concluded that during these 15 years the consequences of Chernobyl had no negative impact on the medical records of the Russian population, neither grown-ups or children. Even those who took part in recovering the disaster are all fit and healthy, the minister said. In other words, Adamov meant that should another Chernobyl-like disaster occur, there is no reason to be worried.

Bad memory

After the introduction, the first question asked was about the rumours that the minister was called to the Prosecutor General Office to answer some questions regarding leakage of technology abroad from Minatom. Adamov explained that he often visits prosecutor’s office and the Russian security police, or FSB. He said that he does it almost every week and it is a regular practice. “No facts of illegal export of technology and science data have taken place yet,” Adamov said and knocked at the plastic table he was sitting at.

Adamov’s assurances contradicted somewhat a statement made by a representative from the Prosecutor General Office, who said a couple of days after the press conference that Adamov had a “bad memory” and it was not a regular visit at all.

Spent fuel import is no evil

Adamov also commented on the new amendments to the federal laws passed the State Duma in December last year. The bill calls to allow import of foreign spent nuclear fuel into Russia. The minister reminded that Russia has been importing spent nuclear fuel from the Soviet design nuclear power plants for about 20 years, as Russia has “the complete fuel cycle for operation with this fuel”.

“The amendments will allow Russia to co-operate with other countries and enter the world market of reprocessing services, which is about to form. We are preparing for this market and think that such amendments are right,” Adamov added. The amendments caused an uproar in the Russian environmental movement. Protests against the bill were arranged in all Russian major cities, calling the amendments a way of turning Russia into an international nuclear dump site.

No immediate plans to import German MOX factory

The minister rejected the existence of any contract with Siemens regarding the delivery of the controversial Hanau plant for plutonium reprocessing to Russia. He explained this by the lack of technology for burning MOX-fuel in the Russian-design reactors. “34 tons of the weapon-grade plutonium are available in Russia, and the price for this energy resource is much higher than $10 billion. When the technology is available then the German plant could be helpful, although it is a pity that Germans do not use it and it stands without operation,” Adamov said with regret.

Six reactors abroad, including three bogus

The Russian Nuclear minister also told the press about international activity of the ministry mentioning the construction of two reactor units in China, two in Iran, and drafting a contract for construction of two units in India, probably to be signed this year. Besides, Minatom has some projects in Slovakia and Czech Republic.

Scrap State Nuclear Regulatory!

As for the relations with the Russian State Nuclear Regulatory, GAN, which was recently stripped of many rights to control the activity of Minatom, Evgeny Adamov, made comparison of the police and a car production. Police should not interfere into the car production but control the traffic instead, Adamov said. He did not mind if GAN would loose the rights to issue licences for nuclear installations and facilities, but says it is good to have an independent inspection agency, which could only issue licences for some particular kind of activity. He added that GAN can still control the activity of the nuclear sites, have access privileges, rights to fine the violators and even stop the operation of the facilities.

The Adamov’s intentions to strip GAN of licensing functions may be soon materialised. The State Duma will soon consider a bill calling to amend the Law on Application of Atomic Energy. The bill suggests transfer of licensing functions from the ‘regulatory agencies’ to the ‘managing agencies’. In other words, the right to licence civilian nuclear related activities will be passed over from GAN to Minatom, should the bill be voted for. Observers believe it will throw nuclear safety control back to pre-Chernobyl era in Russia.