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Russia’s Nuclear Power

Author: Toni Johnson
November 2, 2007

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Before Chernobyl, history’s worst civilian nuclear accident, Soviet planners “dreamed of mobile nuclear power stations” (CSMonitor). Now a floating version of that vision, slated to begin construction (CNN) next year, is just one of twenty-six nuclear plants breaking ground in Russia, which aims to double nuclear power’s share of its electricity grid by 2030. Moscow also proposes towing floating plants to Persian Gulf state harbors as a power source for water desalination plants. One commentator for the state-run Russian Information Agency contends the floating plants would reduce (RIA Novosti) the spread of nuclear technology since such transactions would focus on selling power rather than the plants themselves. But Russian environmental activist Vladimir Slivyak argues (CSMonitor) the floating platforms pose a “clear risk of proliferation” and “will need to be protected by warships.”

Taking its vast nuclear complex to market is Russia’s latest foray as an energy superpower. Russia hopes to sell sixty nuclear power plants of various types worldwide and already builds more conventional nuclear plants for other countries than anyone else. Customers include China, India, and more controversially, Iran. Following the shelving of a deal between India and the United States for nuclear technology and fuel, one Indian columnist noted that instead of wasting time on the United States the Indian government could have “already worked out a deal with close ally Russia” (Central Chronicle).

With half the world’s enrichment capacity located in Russia, the government is “positioning Russian fuel-services companies to benefit” should the global use of nuclear power grow significantly—targeting up to 20 percent (Oxford Analytica) of the global market. Moscow also recently proposed a new multinational enrichment facility in Siberia and is looking for (IANS) international partners. Russia already supplies 50 percent of the U.S. nuclear-utility market through a post-Cold War program called Megatons to Megawatts, explained in this CFR Backgrounder, but has been barred from greater access. But a recent U.S. trade court ruling siding with Russia could spell trouble (StockInterview) for the United States Enrichment Corporation, the only commercial enrichment plant in the United States.

Russia’s plans to expand foreign markets presence could be “significantly aided” by a successful conclusion to an accord on peaceful uses of nuclear energy that could be finalized by the end of the year. The proposed deal between the United States and Russia, would broaden (CNS) the U.S. nuclear market to Russia, contends Gaukhar Mukhatzhanova, a Russia expert for Monterey Institute of International Studies. However, Mukhatzhanova notes that “even with the opening of new markets it is questionable that Russia will make enough profits to finance domestic expansion plans.”

Meanwhile, Russia only has about 4 percent of the world’s natural uranium. Unlike its considerable oil and gas reserves, Russia must secure enough uranium abroad if it’s to fulfill plans to add additional nuclear power plants and enrichment services. Australia recently agreed to supply Russia with 4,000 tons of uranium, on the condition that Russia does not sell it to any other nation or use it for military purposes. Russian President Vladimir Putin asserted if Russia needs to export uranium, its own resources “are sufficient” (AP). Though the Australia deal was hailed in the Russian press, Vladimir Milov, the president of Russia’s Institute of Energy Politics, argues it “is a clear sign of Russia’s failures” to meet its uranium needs internally, and puts Russia’s nuclear industry “at the mercy of western countries.”

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