Russia - Plutonium Investigation n°12/13

Nuclear Power production

The nuclear power generation programme grew out of the weapons production programme in the early 1950s. In fact the world's first nuclear generated electricity connected to a grid came from the AM-1 (Atom Mirny-peaceful atom) reactor at Obninsk, based at the Institute of Physics and Power Engineering, in 1954. Ten years later the two first reactors in Novovoronezh plant had capacities of 210 MWe and 365 MWe respectively, and two first reactors in Beloyarsk had 100 MWe and 200 MWe respectively. All four are shut down. Another experimental reactor was opened at Dimitrovgrad in 1969, but the first industrial scale nuclear power came from the second unit at Novovorenezh, commissioned in 1971. Since then the Soviet, now Russian, nuclear power plant programme has grown rapidly.

At present there are 29 reactors based on nine sites, eleven of which are 1,000 MWe RBMKs (the Chernobyl type-graphite moderated, water-cooled, channel plant); four are the smaller graphite moderated light water reactors (12 MWe each), one is a fast breeder reactor (BN-600); and the remainder are variations on the VVER pressurised water reactor, four first generation (VVER-440/230s capacity), two second generation VVER-440s, and seven of the larger output VVER-1000s. At the beginning of 1999 there were a further 12 nuclear plants officially under construction. However, most of these plants are highly unlikely to ever be completed (like the four 800 MWe fast breeder reactors listed...). Since 1990, only one reactor has come on line.

In 1998, the 29 nuclear power plants produced 103.5 TWh (billion kWh), hardly more than a quarter of the 58 French nuclear power plants and 4.4% down from 1997. Availability has been down by another 2.6% to reach 55.6%.

Last summer the then Russian prime minister, Sergei Kiriyenko, signed a decree which confirmed the nuclear power development programme outlined by the former government in 1997. The plan was adopted without any significant changes, although the budget allocated through 2005 was reduced by some US$800 million to US$8.5 billion. Given the programme to increase Russia's installed nuclear capacity from 1997's 21.24 GWe to 24.2 GWe in 2000 and 27.6 GWe by 2005, this represents about 7% of the estimated required funding. It remains unclear where the remaining funds would come from. Further increases outlined in the plan estimate 29.2 GWe of capacity by 2010, with the total national share of electricity provided by nuclear reaching a tentative 20% to 30% by 2030.

In autumn 1998 the Russian nuclear operators faced chronic financing difficulties, which led to maintenance cut backs, along with inability to pay for fresh fuel. The fuel fabricator, TVEL, was owed between US$20 million to US$43m by the plant operators Rosenergoatom (REA), the Russian nuclear power operating company, at the height of the payment crisis. In July 1998 the Russian government ordered REA to be restructured to deal with an escalating debt problem of over US$50m. Minatom and the national grid company, Unified Energy Systems of Russia (RAO-EES) were charged with the task. Last October the Russian lower house of Parliament (Duma) launched a unique inquiry into the appointment of a new director-general of REA, who had power generation experience, but none with nuclear operation. It is the first time legislators have thought it necessary to investigate a senior Minatom appointment. On top of this, on 10th December 1998 Nuclear Power Minister Yevgeny Adamov called for a criminal investigation into corruption and embezzlement at REA. Adamov said he had sent a letter to Prosecutor General Yury Skuratov in October 1998, asking him to look into the theft of millions of dollars from REA.

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