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Monday, April 21, 2008

Opinion and Analysis: Russia plans nuclear project for Kaliningrad

Russian plans to build a nuclear power plant in the Kaliningrad Region have provoked protests from Europeans concerned about environmental and radiological safety.

The plant is intended to ensure the Baltic enclave's energy security. Russian physicist Anatoly Zrodnikov once said, "The world is now not ruled by the dollar or the euro, but by the joule." (The joule is a unit of energy measuring heat, electricity and mechanical work named after English physicist James Prescott Joule).

There are many nuclear power plants in Europe, notably in France, Germany, the Czech Republic, Lithuania and Finland.

A nuclear power plant is absolutely necessary for the Kaliningrad Region. It will ensure its competiveness and sustainable development, Sergei Kiriyenko, head of the Federal Nuclear Power Agency, Rosatom, said when signing the framework agreement on the construction of the plant on April 16.

The other signatory was the regional governor, Georgy Boos, who said energy supply was a major headache for the region because gas prices keep rising.

Speaking before regional Duma deputies, Kiriyenko said, "The nuclear power plant is vital for that part of Europe in terms of market and energy security."

The European Union, and especially Kaliningrad's Baltic neighbors, do not like the idea of the nuclear power plant. But nuclear power generation seems to be the only solution now in view of the feared global energy crisis. Experts say that energy consumption will double by 2050.

Even such small countries as Albania and Estonia are considering building nuclear power plants. Lithuania, which does not want to part with its energy comfort, is planning to build a new Ignalina plant instead of the old one. The Baltic countries on both sides of the Kaliningrad Region are prepared to pool their funds to finance Lithuania's project. Finland, which has four nuclear reactors and will commission a fifth one in 2009, has announced its intention to build another two or three reactors.

The EU looks benevolently on its members' nuclear ambitions, but complains about environmental and other dangers when Russia advances nuclear plans. Twenty-two years after the Chernobyl disaster, the world should have cured itself of radiophobia.

As the saying goes, "once bitten, twice shy," but the probability of an accident at a modern nuclear reactor is one in a million. Such reassuring figures do little to assuage the public, however.

Russia could simply disregard the opinion of its neighbors, but it respects Europe and its standards - especially since the Kaliningrad Region is surrounded by EU countries.

On the other hand, many EU countries in the Baltic region either already have, or plan to build, nuclear power plants, and so the Russian enclave is located in a hypothetical nuclear risk zone. It can continue to buy energy from neighboring countries at market prices, or build its own nuclear power plant.

Besides, the Kaliningrad plant will provide electricity not only to the enclave, but also to its close and distant neighbors. According to experts, the plant's two reactors will enable Russia to diversify its foreign trade by selling not only commodities (oil and gas) but also high-tech nuclear generated electricity.

In short, Russia plans to make a strong geopolitical move, and it is probably this that worries Europe most of all.

The planned Kaliningrad plant is similar to the Belene nuclear power plant in Bulgaria, which has been certified by the EU. This should be enough to allay Europe's fears. But it is also worried by the plant's huge capacity. After long debates, it has finally accepted the experts' arguments that a plant with two 1150 MW reactors will be the best choice economically and operationally.

The two twin reactors with common infrastructure will make the plant cheaper and ensure that operation will not be interrupted by routine maintenance shutdowns of one of the reactors.

Experts have estimated the cost of the project at 5 billion euros. Atomstroyexport, Russia's nuclear power equipment and service export monopoly, will be the main contractor.

This, too, should go some way to allaying European safety concerns. Atomstroyexport is known for working to the highest standards of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and European requirements for nuclear projects. It was granted the EUR (European Utility Requirements) certificate for the Belene project.

Foreign investors and nuclear construction companies will be invited to take part in the Kaliningrad project. Russian legislation dictates that the state owns and holds controlling stakes in all nuclear power plants. However, Russia is ready to offer foreign partners, above all European ones, a 49% stake in the Kaliningrad plant, Kiriyenko said.

Several potential partners have already expressed interest in supplying equipment to the plant. Now that the agreement has been signed, talks will be held officially.

As for investment, Rosatom plans to consider the issue thoroughly and hold a tender, even though "some investors have expressed willingness to buy everything without a tender," Kiriyenko said.

The decision to build the plant was made after a yearlong survey. Since the plant cannot be built on the Baltic coast for geophysical reasons, it will be built inland, on the area of 13.300 square kilometers, some 120 km (75 miles) from the capital city in the east of the region.

The project will be adapted to the site geographically, will take into account possible environmental effects, undergo thorough ecological expertise and will be approved only after public debates.

(Source: RIA Novosti)


Anonymous said...

"Finland, which has four nuclear reactors and will commission a fifth one in 2009, has announced its intention to build another two or three reactors. "

--I didn't know that! Good for them. While others are still debating how much to lower their standard of living or waiting for the wind to start blowing so they can start working again. Finland is going to be set for generations with cheap, plentiful and clean electricity.


Anonymous said...

Btw interesting fact I found on the world nuclear site:

"An 800 MWe undersea transmission line from near Olkiluoto(Finland) to Sweden is expected to be completed in 2010, allowing power export."


I am wondering if somehow Russia can export electricity from like Kalingrad to Germany.

Rod Adams said...


I like to keep in mind that the EU can trace its roots to the European Coal and Steel Community whose purpose was to establish a "common market" in coal and steel. That common market was designed not to benefit consumers, but to help grow the business of producing coal and steel. It allocated production quotas among the member states.

The reason that I bring that piece of history into the discussion is that the EU is still very oriented to the protection of established enterprises and to ensuring the continued prosperity of coal, oil and gas enterprises. It is not very accepting of nuclear power and often encourages the destruction of plants that are adequately safe - like the Ignalina plant in Lithuania.

The operation of the two large plants proposed for Kaliningrad would reduce the demand for gas by about 10 billion cubic meters per day. It would also make any electricity produced in any new plant in Lithuania worth less money since the balance between supply and demand would be shifted to benefit consumers, not suppliers.

The "safety" argument is simply a distraction. It is much easier for the established enterprises to support fights on safety grounds than to actually come out and admit that they are simply protecting their markets and their profits. That argument would not win many friends.

Alexandra Prokopenko said...

I agree that is good thing to keep in mind when it comes to EU which has a strong business lobby when it comes to energy.
Actually, the reduction of European demand for gas benefits Russians in a way - they can sell directly electricity to EU from Kalinigrad and skip paying gas transit tax to Ukraine and Belarus, while in Ukraine there is a risk of gas getting stolen on it's way. It will give Russia an additional instrument of pressure on those two countries dependent on Russian gas.

Rod Adams said...


I think you have correctly analyzed the situation. Russia is definitely interested in more direct access to the European energy market - the installation of a nuclear facility in Kaliningrad has a lot in common with the effort to build a gas pipeline through the Baltic Sea to land directly in Germany.

In both cases, this allows Russia to get its product to market without passing through Ukraine and Belarus.