Russian energy giant celebrates its 15 years birthday

Hazem Abdullah (economic analyst), Wednesday 28 Dec 2022

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When someone thinks about the Russian economy and especially about its energy sector, usually there is only one association, and it is Gazprom or Rosneft. But Russia has another huge and prosperous corporation, which is a big energy producer, butalso a leading global high-tech company that combines science, technologies, transport and ecology projects. The name of it is Rosatom and in December it celebrates its 15 years birthday.

It is evident that Russia is a world’s pioneer in peaceful atom: the first nuclear power plant in the world was built in 1954 in the city of Obninsk, Kaluga region, which is just 100 km south-west from Moscow. Soviet Union invested a lot both in nuclear weapons and in nuclear generation of electricity. And modern Russia succeeded to it after a break in 1990s that happened due to a deep social and economic crisis after the split of the USSR.

In December, 2007, President Putin made a decision to integrate all Russian nuclear industry, both civil and military, under the aegis of the State Atomic Energy Corporation “Rosatom”. Since that time there are a number of achievements Russia should be proud of. First of all, the share of nuclear generation in national energy balance increased from 16% in 2007 up to more than 20% in 2022. Rosatom developed and deployed a new type of pressurized water reactor known as VVER-1200. It is quite effective and safe, that is why it is in demand in the Russian domestic and international markets.

Today Cairo and Moscow cooperate in the field of nuclear energy successfully, the mentioned VVER-1200 is used in El-Dabaa Nuclear Power Plant (in the Governorate of Matrouh on the coastlines of the Mediterranean Sea), whichis under construction now and will be the first nuclear power plant in Egypt. Nevertheless, the production of Rosatom is not limited to such types of reactors. The very promising project is low-power nuclear power plants that could solve the energy problems in the countries with underdeveloped energy infrastructure in Africa, Asia and also in the Arctic zone where the building of big nuclear power plants is quite complicated.

At the moment Russia is the only one country that created a working low-power nuclear power plant – floating nuclear thermal power plant “Academic Lomonosov”. Now it is producing electricity in Pevek (Chukitka region). Rosatom has plans to build another station on the ground in Yakutia (East Siberia). However, there is another breakthrough that Russia made in nuclear power: she created closed nuclear fuel cycle.

What does it actually mean? It used to be considered that the spent nuclear fuel is useless and dangerous. Countries, which own nuclear power plants, extract it from reactors and keep in special places called nuclear repository. Russia went another way, invested in the development of a new reactor generation and finally is ready to give birth to BN-1200 – a sodium-cooled fast breeder reactor (its predecessors are BN-600 and BN-800). It can use the spent nuclear fuel for producing electricity.

The reuse of the nuclear fuel is a good response to the reduction of natural uranium reserves and gives a second wind to nuclear energy. Also it is very ecological: instead of multiplying nuclear burial grounds Rosatom found the way to use the fuel once again. As for ecology, it is necessary to mention a new activities of theRosatom corporation: the elimination of accumulated ecologicalharm.

Actually, it is a global problem. The chemical industry throughout the world, and Russia is not an exception, damaged environment a lot. The challenge is to neutralize it somehow and Rosatom is quite successful in solving this problem. The pilot project, which it implements during last two years, is the restoringof the ecological balance in Usolye-Sibirskoye (a small city near the Lake Baikal). The environmental damage has been done by the chemical plant “Khimprom” that was closed by now. Rosatom is about to restore the environment completely and multiply this case in Russia and abroad.

The sameecological activities are supported by Rosatom in the Russian Arctic, where the corporation maintains a dialogue with a number of environmental activists and helps to implement a public initiative known as “A Clean Arctic”. The Rosatom’s interest to the Arctic is not accidental. The Russian Government appointed it as an operator of the Northern Sea Route, which goes along the Eurasian coast from Europe to East Asia. This decision was made due to the fact that Rosatom owns the nuclear icebreaker fleet, which consists of sevenships of such class (the last one, «Ural», was put into operation in November this year). Northern Sea Route navigation is impossible without icebreaker fleet and Russia is the only one country in the world which has it.

Obviously, Rosatom plays a unique role in nowadays Russian economy. It has a special status of state corporation that allows it to combine the government regulation with market practices and do its business effectively. In fact, Rosatom is a successful mixture of science and technologies, and in no way closed to energy production. Recently, it opened a new composite materials plant and even started serial production of lithium-ion batteries. Maybe it is the most high-tech company in Russia, which should be considered as a symbol of its national industry.

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