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Rosatom nuclear exports up, uranium projects on hold

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

Russia's state nuclear corporation Rosatom's foreign orders increased by 31% in 2012. Orders worth US$66.5 billion comprised nuclear power plant construction abroad (US$28.9bn), uranium products (US$24.7bn), nuclear fuel exports and other foreign activities (US$12.9bn).[1] Rosatom is building 19 reactors outside of Russia, more than any other vendor.[2]

Russia's willingness to provide billions in financing partly underpins its success, particularly in developing countries, as does the Rosatom 'build, own, operate' (BOO) model.[3,4]

Russia's willingness to accept spent fuel from Russian-built reactors overseas is another selling point. Yet Russia has nowhere to store radioactive waste and spent fuel apart from temporary on-site facilities. In October, Rosatom announced a 'roadmap' to explore the possibility of building 30 long-term repositories as well as temporary waste storage facilities in Russia.[7] Needless to say that process will be protracted and contested.

Alexander Nikitin, chair of the Environment and Rights Center Bellona in St. Petersburg, notes that waste management is problematic already without accepting spent fuel from overseas: “Who takes responsibility for what is even a problem at Mayak. Often, it's clear that spent nuclear fuel has come, for instance, from the navy, but poor documentation and lousy bureaucracy fails to establish who is actually responsible for it now.”[7]

Rosatom provides little detail about the reactors it is selling and building, due to strict internal commercial secrecy rules. Jukka Laaksonen, a former Finnish nuclear regulator now employed by Rosatom, told Reuters: "Inexperienced customers, who do not know that much about nuclear power, cannot ask as much." He pointed to a fold-out diagram of the VVER reactor, torn from an international nuclear engineering magazine, as no more detailed than most of the written information the company provides to potential clients.[2]

Nuclear power plants in Russia generated a record 177.3 TWh of electricity in 2012 − 2.7% higher than in 2011.[1] In October, Rosatom formally abandoned its previous, fanciful plan to build 35 reactors in Russia by 2020. Rosatom head Sergei Kiriyeko said the new roadmap for 2013 to 2024 involves building 18 new nuclear reactors.[8]

Rosatom reported that its uranium production reached 7,600 tonnes in 2012 (about 13% of total world output), an increase of 7% compared to 2011. Rosatom also met 45% of world demand for enrichment services in 2012 as well as 17% of fabricated fuel requirements.[1,5]

Rosatom says it will freeze uranium expansion projects in Russia and elsewhere due to low prices. "We cannot discount the dramatic fall in natural uranium prices, as a result of which over 50 percent of global uranium production is currently loss-making," said Vadim Zhivov from Rosatom's mining subsidiaries Atomredmetzoloto and Uranium One Holding.[6]

Zhivov said details of which of the company's projects are to be cancelled would be announced later. The Honeymoon mine in South Australia will be put into care and maintenance after several troubled years of operation. Other projects that could be affected include the Mkuju River mine in Tanzania, several minor projects in Russia, and the Willow Creek project in the US state of Wyoming.[6]

[1] NEI, 13 Nov 2013, 'Rosatom aims for $72bn in foreign orders for 2013',
[2] Alissa de Carbonnel and Svetlana Burmistrova, 14 Nov 2013, 'Russian nuclear exporter's foreign hires battle Soviet-style secrecy',
[3] Geert De Clercq, 14 May 2013, 'Rosatom offers emerging nations nuclear package: paper',
[4] WNN, 4 June 2012, 'Rosatom signs international deals',
[5] WNN, 13 Nov 2013, 'Rosatom sees exports jump in 2012',
[6] Reuters, 13 Nov 2013, 'Russia's Rosatom to mothball uranium mine expansion projects',
[7] Charles Digges, 18 Nov 2013, 'Russia's nuclear corporation embarks on permanently storing radioactive waste – but final solutions still distant',
[8] Charles Digges, 13 Nov 2013, 'Rosatom's new 'roadmap' slashes number of new reactors, but leaves loose ends on shut downs',