Russia clings to nuclear power despite warnings
Putin announces a review of nuclear power in Russia despite little public pressure from citizens.Two decades after the Soviet collapse, Russia is still using nuclear power stations that concern experts but the Japan quake will not prompt a rethink of its reliance on atomic energy, analysts said.
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin unexpectedly announced a review of nuclear power in Russia in light of the damage to the Fukushima plant in the Japanese earthquake but this is not expected to result in a major U-turn.
Yet even after the scars of the 1986 Soviet Chernobyl catastrophe on the territory of the modern state of Ukraine, there exists little public pressure in Russia for an abandonment of nuclear power.
"Russia will never renounce its nuclear objectives because we are talking about one of the few sectors where Moscow is still competitive" internationally, said Alexander Konovalov, head of the Institute for Strategic Assessments in Moscow.
Even after announcing the review of Russia's nuclear programme last week, Putin headed immediately to Minsk, where along with President Alexander Lukashenko he talked up a plan for Russia to build a nuclear plant in Belarus on the threshold of the EU.
"The protection levels at the Belarus facility will be considerably higher than in Japan," Putin boasted.
Russia's nuclear agency Rosatom is one of the world's leading contractors for building nuclear power plants abroad and has been constructing stations in Bulgaria and India. It has plans for future projects in Turkey and even Venezuela.
Most controversial is the Bushehr nuclear plant that Russia has been completing in Iran, a country suspected by the West to be seeking nuclear weapons and which sits on major earthquake faultlines.
Nuclear power remains a matter of national pride in Russia -- it was in 1954 in Obrinsk near Moscow that the Soviet Union put the world's first nuclear power plant into operation, a 5 MW pressure tube reactor.
The Chernobyl disaster caused a temporary stagnation in the domestic nuclear industry but after the fall of the Soviet Union Russia committed itself to nuclear power and saw projects abroad as a foreign currency money spinner.
Russia currently produces up to 16 percent of its electricity from nuclear power plants. The government passed an energy strategy last year that said more nuclear power capacity will be built before 2020.
Vladimir Kuznetsov, a nuclear physicist and member of the public council of Russia's nuclear agency Rosatom said that Russia was still operating several nuclear plants that should arouse concern.
Two nuclear plants, Balakovo in the Volga region and Rostov in the south of Russia, are in earthquake zones and are "potentially dangerous", he said.
Meanwhile, the technical conditions of two others -- Kola in the northwest and Novovoronezh in the centre -- do not correspond to international security standards, he added.
He also accused Russia of "frenetically prolonging the expiry date" for old reactors, most notably the Soviet-era Leningradskaya close to Saint Petersburg whose lifespan has been extended until 2025.
Russia is still using 11 of the (RBMK) High Power Channel-type Reactors of the same type as in the Chernobyl disaster, he said. Russia has 32 reactors in total, half of which are first generation.
"The authorities did not carry out the appropriate conclusions from the Chernobyl situation," said Igor Ostretsov, a former deputy head of of Russia's atomic industry research institute.
"A lobby exists which puts an obstacle in front of any kind of objective analysis."
Marina Lapenkova / AFP /Expatica