A nuclear deal with some unanswered questions

world | Nov 06, 2007 | By Grigory Pasko

Today the 31 units of 10 Russian nuclear power stations account for approximately 16% of the country’s electricity production. Last year, Russian president Vladimir Putin demanded of the Federal Atomic Energy Agency of the Russian Federation (“RosAtom”) that the proportion of electricity produced by nuclear plants be increased to 25% by 2030. This means that two new units are going to have to be built every year for there to be 42 new units in operation by 2030. These ambitious plans have already raised a storm of indignation on the part of environmentalists in Russia. First and foremost because Russia is doing practically nothing for the development of alternative power sources, but is following a path of least resistance and one of imperial desire to develop an industry that will be useful for military purposes as well.

Meanwhile, the press has already reported that economically viable reserves of uranium in Russia itself are enough to last only until 2015. (Annual production of uranium in Russia is enough to provide for something on the order of 50% of the needs of its nuclear power plants; the difference is covered by stockpiled reserves of various raw materials and from secondary sources.) In other words, Russia needs to buy uranium for its nuclear plants. This despite the fact that there are agreements in place for to ship uranium from Russia to the countries of the Baltic, Eastern Europe, Finland, Sweden, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and the countries of the Asiatic region. In order to fulfill the plans for these shipments and to supply its own nuclear plants with fuel, Russia has to buy uranium in other countries – Kazakhstan, for example.

OAO “Atomenergoprom”, the state atomic holding company, was founded in Russia in July of this year. Wholly owned by the state, “Atomenergoprom” will by 2008 unite all the enterprises of the civilian nuclear industry under its umbrella. It will mine uranium, produce nuclear fuel and generate electricity, and build nuclear power stations in Russia and abroad. In such a manner, “Atomenergoprom” is going to vertically integrate (ever since Putin came to power, everything in Russia is being vertically integrated) the entire nuclear technological chain in the country, with the exception – as state officials are quick to point out – of the nuclear weapons complex, for which a special programme is being prepared.

The founders of the new holding company do not rule out partnering with western investors for the development of uranium deposits in Russia. In their opinion, it is possible that companies such as Japan’s Mitsubishi, Canada’s Cameco, and Australia’s BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto may eventually become minority shareholders in “Atomenergoprom”.

Vladimir Smirnov, the head of “Tekhsnabexport”, the nuclear import-export company that forms a part of “Atomenergoprom”, has already reported to the press on negotiations with the Australians. He said that preliminary meetings were held during the course of a visit by a “Tekhsnabexport” delegation to Australia on 13-20 October of last year.

Mr. Smirnov underscored that there is great interest on the part of Australian companies in working with Russia.

A working group has been created in Australia under the leadership of Prime Minister John Howard to conduct an analysis of the situation and prepare a report on the prospects of developing nuclear energy in Australia.

On Russia’s part, a proposal was made to Australia to take part in the work of the International Centre for the Enrichment of Uranium in the Siberian city of Angarsk, the first participant in which, along with Russia, is Kazakhstan.

And so, Australian intends to sell uranium for the Russian nuclear power industry. In the words of Australian Fo



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Grigory Pasko is a former nava
The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author only, not of Spero News.

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