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© RIA Novosti. Alexsey Druginyn

Nuclear rethink urged

by at 21/03/2011 18:28

The disaster at the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan has caused an international re-think on nuclear power, while Russia has announced a review of its policy.

As the crisis unfolds a host of countries, including Russian partners Romania, Bulgaria and Venezuela, have announced a review of their atomic facilities.

“It’s a major long-term, fundamental shift in the marketplace and a long-term shift in psychology,” said Shawn Hackett, president at Hackett Advisors consultancy, mineweb.com reported.

World uranium prices have slumped with the uncertain prospects of new nuclear projects worldwide.

Public opinion shifting

The central room of the Novovoronezh nuclear power plant’s third and fourth reactors

© RIA Novosti. / Sergey Pyatakov

The central room of the Novovoronezh nuclear power plant’s third and fourth reactors

Public opinion is a major driving force in the highly politicised international nuclear industry.

In Germany, where state-owned Rosatom has an agreement with Siemens, Chancellor Angela Merkel ordered all nuclear plants operating before 1980 to be closed for three months. Her Christian Democrat party is facing three crucial state elections later this month.

An opinion poll on nuclear.ru found that 20 per cent of the site’s readers, most of whom are industry professionals, were sure the end of the “nuclear renaissance” was unavoidable, while 33 per cent said nuclear power plants were dangerous.

In countries such as China, Russia and India, where civil society is much weaker, the industry is driven by long-term strategies, and therefore existing agreements to build power plants and supply uranium are unlikely to be changed, analysts say.

Russia retains a major interest in China and India, and there is little alternative to nuclear energy due to the high cost of oil and coal, said Airat Khalikov, an analyst at Veles Capital.

Beijing’s pledge to cut the country’s carbon emissions by 45 per cent by 2020 has driven the nuclear industry, and China will have to develop it to meet that target.

No Turkish reaction

The reactor hall of the Leningrad nuclear plant at Sosnovsky Bor near St Petersburg

© RIA Novosti. / Sergey Pyatakov

The reactor hall of the Leningrad nuclear plant at Sosnovsky Bor near St Petersburg

Turkish Prime-Minister Tayyip Erdogan said on a visit to Moscow last week that the country would not change its plans to build a nuclear plant in the southern city of Akkuyu.

Rosatom will build the $20 billion plant, which will be situated 25 kilometres from an active fault line, and Turkish energy minister Taner Yildiz said they would look for lessons from the Japanese disaster.

Atomstroiexport, the subsidiary responsible for constructions abroad, is constructing India’s Kudankulam plant, Iran’s Bushehr and Bulgaria’s Belene, as well as the third and fourth blocks of Tianwan in China.

The company also has projects in the former Soviet Union, including at Grodno in Belarus and the Khmelnitskaya power plant in Ukraine.

Vyacheslav Kirlienko, the leader of Ukraine’s opposition, submitted a bill to parliament attempting to terminate the agreement, RIA Novosti reported. The Kremlin’s relationship with President Viktor Yanukovich, however, should ensure that the project goes ahead.

Floating fission

The government has ordered a review of the nuclear industry

© RIA Novosti. / Mikhail Klimentyev

The government has ordered a review of the nuclear industry

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has ordered an urgent one-month analysis of the entire sector in the wake of the disaster.

Russia is still expected to build around 22 per cent of all new nuclear energy facilities worldwide, according to Ilya Platonov, an analyst at nuclear.ru.

But the tsunami should spell the end to Russian plans for floating power plants, which had been planned to come on line in 2013, for export to China.

“Did you see those huge vessels being tossed onto the shore like kids’ toys?” asked Alexander Nikitin, head of Bellona environmental agency, adding that this could happen to nuclear stations.

But industry analysts say that with an early warning system for tsunamis there would be no danger, as the speed of the wave is dependent on the depth of the ocean.

“If there is any danger, the nuclear power plant could easily be taken out to sea, as it represents a moving barge and tsunamis are dangerous only to the coast,” said Khalikov of Veles Capital.

Russia employs 200,000 people in the industry, building new projects such as the Novovoronezh-2 and Leningrad-2 power stations, and new reactor blocks for the existing Beolyarsk and Kalinin plants.

In the short term Russia will lose out on its supplies to Japan, where it provides around 15 per cent of the country’s demand.

“Australia, the US, Canada and Russia are the key providers of fuel to the Japanese market,” said Anna Kupriyanova, an analyst at Uralsib.

The country’s industry remains in the hands of the state, but the publicly traded stock of international uranium mining and nuclear energy companies has fallen significantly.

Australia’s Paladin Energy fell 31.1 per cent over two days to reach a two year low on March 15.

Past disasters

The world’s first nuclear power plant in Obninsk was closed in 2002 and now houses a museum

© RIA Novosti. / Pavel Bykov

The world’s first nuclear power plant in Obninsk was closed in 2002 and now houses a museum

The explosions at the Fukushima plant in Japan have taken place on the verge of the 25th anniversary of the meltdown at Chernobyl. The US had its own nuclear accident at Three Mile Island in 1979, which led to a revision and reduction of nuclear energy programs in America and Europe.

“Catastrophes like this are the main factor that could stop the nuclear renaissance,” said Khalikov.

Reports from Japan say the crisis is unlikely to develop into the scale of the Chernobyl disaster, which led to 330,000 people being resettled and health issues across Europe.

“But a meltdown of the five reactor cores is unlikely to be avoided,” said Yaroslav Shtrombakh, deputy director of the Kurchatov Institute and a member of Rosatom’s Crisis Situation Centre.

Environmental fallout

Environmentalists say there needs to be a shift to safer sources, while Yevgeny Schwartz, director of the WWF’s environmental policy unit in Russia, says the industry has lobbied for the elimination of environmental impact assessments.

 “I want to hope that that the prime minister’s and president’s decrees on obligatory examination of dangerous objects will be fully implemented,” he said.

He added that it is unlikely that the wildlife in Russia’s Far East will be seriously affected, because it is not spawning season for fish yet. 

“But accidents like this shouldn’t happen if we want to have healthy children,” Shwartz said.


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