Russian nuclear sites need to be safer

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

By Russell Hotten
Daily Telegraph 04 December 2007

Russia has created a vast state-run company that brings together organisations and agencies involved in the country's civil and military nuclear sector, with the aim of overseeing billions of pounds of investment in new power stations and pitching for contracts abroad.

The Rostov nuclear power plant in southern Russia

President Vladimir Putin signed legislation yesterday to expand the role of Rosatom, a holding company that controls the Atomic Energy Power Corporation, to put the country's nuclear industry on a commercial footing. The company will look after the mining of uranium, design of reactors, building missiles, and exports.

The move underlines Russia's emergence as an energy superpower, but the creation of a strong Rosatom was welcomed by analysts as it should help to increase regulation of the country's diverse nuclear sector, where lax controls and competing interests have led to concerns about radioactive material getting into the hands of terrorists.

Russia has ambitious plans to upgrade existing nuclear plants, and build some 40 more over the next 20 years, reducing dependence on gas-fired power stations. Moscow's strategy is to free-up more gas that can be exported by the state-run energy giant Gazprom. Yesterday, at a conference in Paris, Gazprom's chief executive, Alexei Miller, said that the development of
Russia's energy sector is happening so fast that "we simply have to constantly adjust our plans".

Andrew Neff, analyst at Global Insight, said the move made sense for Russia. "Nuclear power will see a renaissance over the next decades and Putin wants to consolidate its players to take advantage of this. If Russia can get its house in order, it will be in a position to attract investment, export nuclear equipment and machinery, and bid for contracts."

He said the West should welcome the move because "streamlining operations into a single company should improve nuclear security."

Last week police seized 2.2lbs of radioactive material and arrested two people in Slovakia and one in Hungary. This came days after a leaked report by Rosatom warned of "insufficient" security measure at some nuclear sites in Russia.

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