Senators dream of private nuclear power plants

Publish date: October 23, 2001

Written by: Rashid Alimov

The Federation faction of Russian senators supports granting private companies the right to own nuclear power units.

According to NTV and RIA “News”, the idea was voiced at the round-table discussion on Monday, and labelled as main news of the day at the Federation faction’s Internet site.

The Federation faction comprises a great majority of the senators. The head of the group is Valery Goreglyad, Sakhalin county representative, who is said to be the most likely candidate to succeed the speaker’s office in the Federation Council, the upper chamber of the Russian parliament.

Goreglyad claims that granting private companies the right to own nuclear power units will facilitate investments into the building of NPPs, especially the low-powered ones.

In Goreglyad’s view, nuclear materials as a subject of exchange relations, would raise investment opportunities for the nuclear energy industry. If nuclear materials were a property of Russian private companies, beneficial conditions for the leasing, contrary to selling, of fuel elements would be generated. Russian plants would be able to export nuclear fuel without transferring the ownership of the property to a foreigner. “As a result spent nuclear fuel, which is a very valuable product for countries who are able to reprocess it, and a great problem for those, who aren’t, would remain as Russian property,” said Goreglyad.

Anyway, according to the legislation in force, Russia is currently bound to accept that nuclear fuel of Russian origin is spent at foreign NPPs.

Spent fuel contains uranium-238 and thorium, which are used in free nuclear reactors, which in turn is the basis of the new generation of NPPs, Goreglayd says.

Earlier however, during the readings of the amendments favouring spent fuel imports to Russia, Goreglyad estimated the current situation in the nuclear industry as follows: “The current situation in Russia is very difficult, and obviously we don’t have enough internal resources for reprocessing the nuclear waste already at hand… We may end up drowning in our own waste. This problem needs to be closely monitored.” These words, however, did not hamper the Federation faction headed by Goreglyad, in refraining from discussing the amendments, which in fact indicates their approval. Without being discussed in the Federation Council, the amendments were handed over to the President’s desk and signed.

Goreglyad claims that the liberalisation of the property rights for owning nuclear materials and plants should cause a dramatic reinforcement of the state authorities control, rather than a weakening. One may assume however that the control reinforcement spoken of will be similar to the “personal control” on spent fuel imports promised by President Putin. Whereupon last week, such imports from Bulgaria were announced to be carried out in the nearest future, without Minatom having co-ordinated this with anybody.

In the end of September, the question of a possible change of property status of NPPs was already touched upon. A plan actively supported by the Leningrad county governor stipulates that an underground NPP will be built in the county, based on joint stock financing. The Central Krylov Research Institute designed the plan. “According to the Russian legislation, a NPP may be built based on joint stock financials, but only the state can own a nuclear power plant,” deputy minister for Nuclear Energy, Valery Lebedev, said at the time. But Alexander Agapov, the head of the safety department of Minatom, did not agree with the deputy minister, and said that the idea of a joint stock nuclear plant leaves the nuclear power plant operation to the will of any private person.