Rosatom feels no direct impact from sanctions, says Kirienko

28 April 2015

US and European Union-imposed economic sanctions on Russia have had no direct impact on Rosatom, but the state nuclear corporation "regularly faces pressure" from Western governments and negative publicity in the media, its director general has said.

Rosatom's foreign orders for its reactor technology and related services now exceed $100 billion, but "one can't say that [sanctions] have had no effect at all," Sergey Kirienko said in an interview with Russian news agency TASS.

Kirienko referred to a report in the Financial Times that said the European Commission planned to block Hungary's nuclear fuel supply deal with Russia for the Paks nuclear power plant expansion project - the Euratom Supply Agency in fact last week approved the deal - and an article by Reuters that Rosatom's Akkuyu project in Turkey faces delay.

"The Hungarian government is demanding a retraction and Turkey's energy ministry has refuted the claim," Kirienko said. "And it is obvious that Turkey, as a NATO country, politically feels a lot of pressure over its choice of Russia as a partner for the construction of a nuclear power plant."

There were "defiant attempts" to put pressure not only on the Hungarian government, he said, but also on the Finnish parliament over Russia's involvement in the Hanhikivi nuclear power plant project. Rosatom last year acquired a 34% stake in Fennovoima, the company proposing to build the plant, which is to feature a Russian-supplied reactor. The parliament in December voted by a large majority in favour of Fennovoima's plan to construct the plant in Pyhäjoki.

None of Rosatom's projects has to date been cancelled, Kirienko stressed. "Credibility and predictability are very important in the nuclear industry and are guaranteed only through experience of working together and through the guaranteed fulfilment of one's obligations. Much more serious issues are the reliability of the technology and the advantage Russia has with its nuclear industry's long history." 2015 marks the 70th anniversary of the Russian nuclear industry, a milestone that is important to Rosatom's customers, he said.

Rosatom is "already used to" negative reports by some foreign media, Kirienko said, "but then again, when such counter measures are employed it means that other methods haven't worked. In a way, it's a compliment to the Russian nuclear industry because it means that competing with us in an honest way isn't that easy; that's how competitive our products are."

Political opponents to Russia's intergovernmental agreement with Jordan voiced their concerns during parliamentary debates in the Middle Eastern country prior to its signing, he said.

Kirienko signed the agreement - on cooperation in the construction and operation of Jordan's first nuclear power plant - in March, along with Khaled Toukan, chairman of the Jordan Atomic Energy Commission. The document envisages construction of two 1000 MWe VVER units in Az-Zarqa, the Central Region of Jordan.

"It was evident that there had been certain foreign pressure," he said. "Not all of Jordan's partners in surrounding countries like the fact that the choice was made in favour of Russia, for Rosatom to build Jordan's first nuclear power plant. But His Majesty King Abdullah II was absolutely right when he said that it was an historic day that sets a new milestone in the strategic cooperation between our two countries. This confirms once again that long-term solutions supersede short-term tactical issues."

To illustrate this point about the long-term quality of nuclear power plant projects, Kirienko said the project in Jordan - as elsewhere - will involve a preparatory period of 18 months, which includes site surveys, a technical feasibility study, an environmental impact assessment, economic calculations and financial arrangements. The plant will take five years to build and will be in operation for 60-80 years.

"Our ability to provide comprehensive cooperation is a very important argument for our partners. That's what the leaders of Jordan themselves told us. For them, the decision to build nuclear power plants is not only a guarantee of electricity supply, but also a transition to a qualitatively new level of technology, because this includes the training of specialists," he said.

Jordanian students and graduates have already started their training at Russian universities and work has begun between the Russian regulator Rostechnadzor and Jordan's nuclear supervisory authority in developing qualifications necessary to manage the project.

Rosatom was "closely observed" in its project to build the first nuclear power unit at Busher in Iran, he said, "because we finished building a project that had been abandoned 30 years previously".

Russia has an intergovernmental agreement with Iran to build another eight units and Rosatiom has a contract for the second and third units at Bushehr.

"We completed the Bushehr contract, despite fairly serious pressure from very different sides," Kirienko said. "Politics is politics, but in the professional, technical and engineering world, the highest qualified people are worth more than that," he said.

US-based journal Power Engineering in January acknowledged Bushehr and the first unit of Kudankulam in India as the nuclear power "projects of the year", Kirienko noted.

"Can you understand what that means in today's political situation for an American magazine to award first place to Rosatom projects?! But they did that because, from a technical point of view, these projects were unique."

On political tensions in Ukraine, Kirienko said nuclear power accounts for most of the country's electricity supply and Rosatom supplies almost all the fuel for its 15 nuclear power units.

"We have never, not for a single day, broken our commitments," he said, "because reputation and trust are crucial in a strategic sector like nuclear energy."

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News