|Russia and the CIS News Digest
Putin Gears Up Russian Nuclear Industry
Addressing a conference in the Kremlin on March 14, just as the energy ministers of the G-8 nations were beginning their meeting in Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin emphasized that nuclear-power engineering is "a priority branch for the country, that makes Russia a great power; the most ambitious projects and progressive technologies are linked with this [industrial] branch." Describing nuclear power as "one of the most important national priorities" for Russia, which is also seeing a revival in the U.S., Putin said that nuclear power is "no longer a Cinderella," or outcast.
The head of Russia's nuclear state enterprise Rosatom, Sergei Kiriyenko, stated that government budget funds are insufficient to build the 40 or so new nuclear reactors Russia needs in the next 20 years. So, Russia plans to build 60 nuclear plants abroad, expecting major "markets in southeast Asia, Kiriyenko said. Soviet nuclear specialists built 30 reactors in other countries, and since the break-up of the Soviet Union, selling services abroad is how Russia has financed, and kept alive, its space program. Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov, Security Council Secretary Igor Ivanov, and Industry and Energy Minister Viktor Khristenko also attended the meeting.
Moscow Agenda for G-8: 'Nuclear Power Inevitable'
A meeting of the energy ministers of the Group of Eight industrialized countries came to the "conclusion that the nuclear-power industry is an inevitable prospect for some leading economies," in the words of Russian Industry and Energy Minister Viktor Khristenko. The Energy Ministers of India, China, Brazil, Mexico, and South African Republic were also invited to the meeting, which took place in Moscow March 16, as well as representatives from the World Bank and OPEC.
According to Khristenko, the meeting paid special attention to "the role of the nuclear-power industry in the future of the world's energy balance." Russian President Putin also addressed the gathering, underscoring that the expansion of nuclear energy would be very much needed to help the developing sector.
Kiriyenko in China for Nuclear Power Talks
Concluding talks in Beijing March 17, Rosatom chief Sergei Kiriyenko announced that bilateral cooperation in the development and use of civilian nuclear power shall be intensified. "This involves the construction of new nuclear-power plants, as well as cooperation in science and technology," Kiriyenko said, before departing to Lianyunggang, where Rosatom is currently building two reactors at the Tianwan nuclear-power plant.
Kiriyenko will visit China again on March 21, as part of President Putin's delegation. Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev on March 17 noted the overall development of bilateral trade between Russia and China, pointed out that "six years ago, we planned to bring our trade turnover to $10 billion; today we have reached $29 billion." Reaching the level of $60-68 billion, at the present pace, is feasible, he added.
Nuclear Power on Fradkov's Agenda in India
In the context of a visit to India by Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov, beginning March 17, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (whose energy minister attended a special Moscow-sponsored event at the recent G-8 energy ministers meeting) said that India and Russia would advance bilateral cooperation in civilian nuclear programs. This particularly concerns the Indian reactor project at Kudankulam, in the southern province of Tamil Nadu, which is being built with Russian assistance. That is only a pilot project for more in-depth cooperation between India and Russia, Singh said. Russia also provides vital fuel for the two reactors Tarapur-1 and Tarapur-2, which otherwise would be faced with fuel shortages.
Fradkov said upon arrival that the present kind of trade, in which Russia delivers finished industrial goods and India mainly agricultural goods and textiles, will be lifted to a higher level of cooperation, and be expanded. Singh said that Indian trade with Russia will more than triple during the coming five years, from an annual trade turnover of $3 billion to 10 billion.
U.S. Recalcitrance on Russian Nuclear Cooperation Blocks Development
Former Russian Atomic Energy Minister Viktor Mikhailov, in a recent interview with RIA Novosti, correctly stressed that American refusal to renew the U.S.-Russian nuclear-energy cooperation agreements has helped escalate the Iran "crisis," and also stall the development of critical next-generation nuclear technologies. The U.S.-Russia nuclear cooperation agreement was allowed to expire five years ago, after the U.S. passed the 2000 Iran Nonproliferation Act. Mikhailov fought with the White House throughout the 1990s, refusing to pull Russia out of the deal to complete Iran's Bushehr nuclear reactor.
As a result, there are two parallel international efforts for nuclear-technology development. One, a Generation 4 program, is led by the U.S. and does not include Russia or "former Soviet" countries. The other, under the auspices of the IAEA, is the International Project on Innovative Nuclear Reactors and Fuel Cycles (INPRO), led by Russia, with 22 members, some of which overlap with the U.S.-led program. Both programs have ongoing activities in the same technology systemshigh-temperature reactors, fast reactors, hydrogen-generating and other process heat applications, etc. Both have long timetables to actually build anything, and little funding.
There have been ongoing, informal discussions between American and Russian nuclear scientists from the nations' laboratories and institutes, on restarting a joint nuclear-technology development effort. According to the Russian Embassy, a delegation of U.S. nuclear experts is leaving soon for Moscow. But without a bilateral civilian nuclear agreement, it is unclear that anything can be accomplished. According to a Russian staff member at the IAEA, on April 10-12, there will be a technical meeting to discuss the next phase in INPRO's plans, where there may be a U.S. perspective presented for its collaboration with INPRO.