Russia--Preparing for the Future

25 de junio de 2007

On April 27, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a
decree to restructure the national nuclear energy industry, an
effort that has been in progress for more than a year. The

dis-parate enterprises that have until now been responsible for
prospecting for uranium, producing fuel, building power
plants, manufacturing equipment, and exporting nuclear technology,
will all be under the roof of one nuclear corporation,
controlled by the government.

In his annual State of the Nation address to Parliament on
April 26, President Putin said that this major reform of the
nuclear sector will be “the country’s second comprehensive
electrification,” a reference to the massive project to bring
electricity for the first time to Russia’s population, starting in
the 1920s. “Power generation in Russia is to grow 66% by
2020,” he reported. The share of nuclear energy in that power
production will be raised to 25%.

Russia’s nuclear industry is spreading its activities and
inviting international participation. On April 10, RIA Novosti
reported that Russia is considering inviting foreign nuclear
companies to cooperate in the construction of a new nuclear
power plant in Russia’s energy-short Far East. “Given the fact
that the [nuclear] compound will be built in the immediate
vicinity of Japan, I deem it right and realistic to consider cooperation
prospects, and to engage Japanese companies—and
possibly Chinese and South Korean ones, as well—in supplying
equipment for the plant, and in designing it jointly,”
Russian nuclear chief Sergei Kiriyenko said in Moscow.

“Cooperation on the first such new nuclear power plant could
pave the way to international integration in building nuclear
power plants in third countries.”

In January last year, Putin made the first Russian initiative
to create International Uranium Enrichment Centers in Russia,
under the supervision of the International Atomic Energy
Agency (IAEA). Any nation will be allowed to participate, if
it respects IAEA policy and uses the uranium purely for civilian
energy generation.

On May 10, Putin and Kazakstan President Nursultan
Nazarbayev oversaw the signing of a bilateral agreement to
set up an enrichment center in Angarsk, East Siberia. This
civilian-use policy of Putin is important for Japan, because it
separates Russia’s military and civilian nuclear facilities.

Speaking in Tokyo May 14, Shunsuke Kondo, chairman of
the Japanese Atomic Energy Commission, said: “Russia’s nuclear energy world in the past was one solid unit. There’s
been a great effort on the Russian side to divide these two
functions.” Japan has no atomic weapons and will cooperate
only in civilian use of nuclear technology with other nations.
Kondo said that Japan supports the idea of international uranium
enrichment centers, which Russia and Kazakstan have
agreed to set up.

Japan is very interested in Russia’s advanced fastbreeder-
reactor technology, which produces plutonium
which can be used for nuclear fuel. “We also want to diversify
our supplier base,” Kondo said. Japan already has 53
nuclear plants, generating 30% of its electricity; it plans to
increase this to 40% by 2030, and to develop fast-breeder
reactors.

Looking toward the future, Russia’s Kurchatov Institute
of nuclear science has been participating in experiments
with the U.S.-based company Thorium Power on fuel rods
that use thorium instead of uranium as a nuclear fuel. One
of the experiments conducted was with a fuel assembly that
would be applicable to those used in Russian-designed
VVER pressurized water reactors. A few nations, such as
India, which are poor in uranium resources, are rich in thorium
reserves.