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Bellona publishes new working paper on Rosatom’s wartime activities in Ukraine

Publish date: June 29, 2023

Throughout Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, one Moscow corporation has emerged as a key player in and benefactor of the military assaults: Rosatom, the state-controlled nuclear entity, which occupies numerous critical links on the world’s nuclear supply chain.

Throughout Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, one Moscow corporation has emerged as a key player in and benefactor of the military assaults: Rosatom, the state-controlled nuclear entity, which occupies numerous critical links on the world’s nuclear supply chain.

Now, of course, it is Rosatom that has claimed control of the sprawling Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Southeastern Ukraine — incidentally the largest atomic station in Europe — which Russian forces seized early in the war and have since more or less transferred to the corporation’s control.

This represents the first time in history that a nuclear power plant has been overrun by a hostile aggressor and taken as a prize — and Rosatom is at the very center of these events.

In our newly published working paper, “Rosatom’s role in the war in Ukraine,” we endeavor to catalog each incident throughout the war thus far in which Rosatom has had a hand.

Over the course of these events, we have observed Rosatom grow from grudging accomplice to strident booster of the Russian military cause, reaping several benefits for itself along the way — not the least of which is an entire nuclear power plant, which the company clearly hopes to count as the 12th such station within the Russian nuclear power industry, despite Kyiv’s continued claim on it.

Throughout, Ukrainian and Western media have reported that plant workers have been detained and tortured by Russian occupiers as part of an effort to induce them to sign work contracts with Rosenergoatom, Rosatom’s nuclear utility wing.

There is also reason to believe that Rosatom is helping weapons makers in Russia evade western sanctions by supplying them with materials they used to procure internationally. A report early this year in the Washington Post suggests that numerous Rosatom subsidiaries are able to supply components to missiles, tanks and other weaponry that are otherwise embargoed from the Russia market.

While Rosatom is engaged in such activities Rosatom nonetheless remains one of the biggest and most profitable nuclear fuel, construction and service companies in the world — particularly in the West among countries Ukraine otherwise counts as allies.

At present there are 18 Russian or Soviet designed nuclear power plants running in the European Union, giving Moscow considerable leverage over their continued operation. Soviet-built VVER 440 reactors supply more than half the power consumed in Slovakia and Hungary. The vast majority of these Europe-based plants depend on Rosatom for fuel deliveries, as well as reprocessing of that fuel when it has been used. The United States, for its part, depends on Rosatom for about one-quarter of its enriched uranium supplies.

More broadly, Rosatom controls about 30 percent of the global market for uranium enrichment and 17 percent of the market for reactor fuel, and out of the approximately 450 nuclear power plants around the world, about 20 percent of them are Russian- or Soviet-designed.

While this underscores the difficulty of placing sanctions on Rosatom — which so far has not been done in any palpable sense — it is important to bear in mind that sanctions against Rosatom are neither impossible nor opposed by many nations.

Many in the European Union seem inclined to pursue them, but that goal has been repeatedly thwarted by Hungary. That, however, shouldn’t prevent nations within the bloc from imposing sanctions on their own. In fact, Finland, before sanctions against Rosatom were even being discussed, managed to cease all interactions with Rosatom on its own by withdrawing from the Hanhikivi nuclear power plant project being undertaken with Moscow.

It is our hope that this working paper will give Western governments a better understanding of Rosatom’s wartime activities — as well as their own interactions with the corporation as the nuclear threats become more dire.

 

 

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