Funding shortages and a resulting potential fall in safety levels could compel Russia to close some of its nuclear power plants, a spokesman for Rosenergoatom said on August 25. According to the official, Rosenergoatom is owed more than 4 trillion rubles ($750 million), and the payment arrears are complicating efforts to maintain the nation’s aging nuclear power plants and to fund a planned expansion of the network. (Reuter, Interfax, August 25) Not coincidentally, a day after the Rosenergoatom announcement the staff of the Leningrad nuclear power station decided to resume its protest against long-mounting wage arrears. That action has led Russia’s nuclear safety monitoring agency to consider closing down the facility. The plant reportedly owes its workers nearly 30 billion rubles in back wages, and the latest protest action was triggered by the government’s failure to meet an August 20 deadline for repayment of one-half of that total debt. (BBC World Service, August 27)
These developments raise new questions about Moscow’s ability to pursue ambitious plans aimed at modernizing Russia’s existing nuclear power infrastructure while moving in the coming years to increase overall nuclear power capacity. In April of this year, for example, a top Russian Atomic Energy Ministry official said that over the next 15 years Russia would continue to produce approximately 12 percent of its electricity from nuclear power plants. To maintain that 12 percent level, however, total nuclear capacity must be increased from the existing 22,000 to 28,000 megawatts, despite the concurrent need to decommission some 9,000 megawatts of nuclear energy by 2010. The result, according to the official, is that Russia will have to build at least 15 new reactors during this period. Even prior to the latest reports of funding difficulties, that prospect had environmentalists worried. They pointed to the suspect safety of older Russian nuclear plants and suggested that Moscow’s requirement needs would be better met not by increasing nuclear capacity, but by improving energy efficiency, which lags significantly behind that found in Western countries. (IPS, April 10)
Media Blitz Buries Challenger in Saratov.