COLUMN-Russia building nuclear reactors – and influence – around the globe via Reuters

(Hannah Thoburn is a Eurasia analyst at the Foreign Policy Initiative. She tweets on Russia and Ukraine at @HannahThoburn.The opinions expressed here are her own.)

By Hannah Thoburn

(Reuters) – Russia has been notoriously brazen in using state-owned companies as instruments of national power. President Vladimir Putin’s natural-gas wars with Belarus and Ukraine made headlines and sometimes left substantial parts of Europe in the cold. But Moscow’s exploits in other energy-related areas have been less noticed.

Recent revelations about the concerted Russian effort to buy up uranium resources across the globe may change that. For Moscow’s state-owned nuclear-energy company, Rosatom, has made successful inroads into markets around the world. It is Rosatom – not France’s Areva or the United States’ Westinghouse – that has 29 nuclear reactors in various stages of planning and construction in more than a dozen countries, the largest number of nuclear reactors being built internationally. In contrast, Areva, though largely owned by the French state, has not sold one reactor since 2007.


Globe-trotting deals

The countries that Russia and its state-owned nuclear company have signed agreements with in the past year are diverse indeed. The most recent deal is with Jordan, a land-locked, energy-poor Middle Eastern nation, which just agreed to have Rosatom complete two nuclear reactors by 2022.

Less than a month before the Jordanian agreement, Putin finalized a deal with Hungary for Rosatom to build and install two reactors to the already existing Soviet-built plant at Paks in south-central Hungary. The deal has come under intense scrutiny from the European Union over the source of the nuclear fuel, but looks set to go ahead.

Only days before the Hungary deal, Putin used his visit to Egypt to conclude a preliminary agreement with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. Moscow is set to build Egypt’s first nuclear power plant, in the northern city of Alexandria.

In November, Russia signed a contract with Iran to build two more reactors at the Bushehr site, where Russia has already built one reactor that is now operational. The deal left open the possibility of Rosatom building an additional four reactors at a site yet to be determined.

India has long had a relationship with Rosatom, as New Delhi has worked desperately over the past years to increase its electricity production capacity. A Russian-built reactor came online at the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant in 2013, a project conceived under the Soviet regime. Another reactor is to begin operation at Kudankulam later this year. Two more nuclear reactors are planned for construction at the same site. When Putin visited India in December 2014, the two governments confirmed that their cooperation in the nuclear sector would continue, with at least 10 more reactors planned in the coming years.

In northern Finland, Rosatom has started preliminary work on a site where a new nuclear plant is scheduled to come online in 2024. Turkey’s first nuclear plant, also built by Rosatom, is set to break ground this spring.

Rosatom is also looking toward Latin America. While Putin was touring South America in July 2014, the Russian leader and Argentine President Cristina Kirchner signed nuclear energy cooperation agreements and in April 2015 agreed to have Rosatom build a reactor at the Atucha-3 plant outside Buenos Aires. In February 2015, Rosatom concluded an agreement with Brazil’s National Nuclear Energy Commission to provide supplies of Molybdenium-99, an element used in many nonmilitary nuclear applications.

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