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Russia pushes ahead with nuclear expansion plans

Peter van Dyk May 20, 2011

Russia pushes ahead with nuclear expansion plans

Peter van Dyk May 20, 2011

Steve Chiotakis: Word today that Tokyo Electric Power — TEPCO — reported a $15 billion loss in its last fiscal year. Japan’s biggest ever, outside of the financial sector. TEPCO’s president also announced he’s stepping down because of the mess that is the Fukushima nuclear plant — a disaster that has a lot of countries thinking twice about nuclear power.

But not Russia, which is pushing ahead with expansion plans.

Peter van Dyk reports.

Peter van Dyk: The Kremlin loves nuclear energy. And it wants to make money out of it.

These days, President Dmitry Medvedev says in a video on his blog, nuclear power is the most profitable way to make electricity. And the safest way, he adds, if the rules are followed.

Russia aims for its nuclear sector to be a top export earner, behind gas and oil. The state nuclear company, Rosatom, is now building five reactors abroad and says it has orders for 30 more. But Medvedev’s pitch shows that the sales are about politics too.

Derek Weaving: Russia traditionally has tended to use commerce as a way of exerting its political influence around the world, so my guess is that the government even now would be prepared to take a bit of a cut on the profitability of these projects in order to spread its influence.

Derek Weaving is with Renaissance Capital investment bank in Moscow. He says Russian reactors are cheaper.

Weaving: The technology that they sell is by and large less sophisticated; that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s less safe but I think it will be a long time yet before Western governments have the confidence to give these contracts to Rosatom on its own.

To overcome safety concerns in the West, Rosatom will have to team up with companies like Westinghouse and France’s Areva. Russian environmentalists like Vladimir Slivyak of Ecodefense say the West is right not to trust Russia’s safety claims.

Vladimir Slivyak: This is why we are worrying about places like Belene in Bulgaria, Akuyu in Turkey and Mezamor in Armenia, because those places are really high risk of earthquakes.

Slivyak is confident Bulgaria and Turkey will rethink their deals with Russia. Weaving disagrees; he says governments struggling to cut carbon emissions have little choice but to go nuclear.

In Moscow, I’m Peter van Dyk for Marketplace.

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