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Nuclear dependence via Beyond Nuclear International

Europe must cut off Russian nuclear supply routes

From Ecodefense, Russia

Europe needs a plan in place for cutting ties with Russia’s nuclear giant Rosatom, says 2021 Right Livelihood Award winner and co-chairman of Ecodefense Vladimir Slivyak.

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Seeking to close this gap in Europe’s concerted action against the war in Ukraine and to provide a comprehensive picture of the union’s reliance on Russian nuclear technology, environmentalists Patricia Lorenz, of Friends of the Earth Europe, and Vladimir Slivyak, a 2021 Right Livelihood Award laureate and co-chairman of the Russian environmental group Ecodefense, jointly presented over Zoom Russian Grip on EU Nuclear Power – an overview of Russia’s businesses and supply chains serving the European nuclear market.  

Through its uranium-producing mines, the fuel manufacturing subsidiary TVEL, and a number of other enterprises – including the German firm NUKEM and the Czech-based Škoda JS – as well as ties with France’s Framatome, Russia’s nuclear giant Rosatom earns billions supplying uranium, fuel assemblies, and maintenance, storage and transport services to nuclear companies and power plants in European countries. This includes fuel deliveries to Soviet-built nuclear power plants in Ukraine.

According to a late April report carried by Rosatom’s corporate outlet Strana Rosatom, the corporation’s total foreign revenue in 2021 rose 20.3% year on year, reaching $8.9 bn. In the first three months of 2022, Rosatom’s foreign earnings grew by 13%. TVEL’s revenue from nuclear fuel exports stood at $0.7 bn in 2020, said the corporation’s annual report for that year.

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Certain construction plans – such as the failed project in Kaliningrad Region or the two-unit plant under construction in Belarus – were meant to export power to the neighboring Baltic states, and Finland still buys part of the energy produced by Leningrad Nuclear Power Plant operating near St. Petersburg, Slivyak pointed out during the presentation of Russian Grip on EU Nuclear Power over Zoom.

Nor can or should Rosatom be treated as an uninvolved bystander in a war its state is waging against the very country it sends nuclear fuel to. Representatives of Rosatom arrived at the site of Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power plant – a six-unit plant which, like Chornobyl shortly before that, fell to the Russian forces in the first two weeks of the war – a few days after the Russian military took control on March 4, said a summary report issued by International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi. The report, released on April 28, said that “about ten Rosatom staff members are still there.”

“Europe must stop its cooperation with Rosatom – stop participating in joint projects, including building nuclear power plants. Stop buying nuclear fuel from Rosatom,” he said.

Cutting all ties with Rosatom involves finding alternative suppliers of uranium, services, and – most crucially – nuclear fuel for the Soviet-built VVER-440s and VVER-1000s operating in Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Finland, Hungary, Slovakia, and Ukraine. The latter, given the many problems with attempts to switch to fuel rods produced by the U.S. company Westinghouse, is of special concern – particularly so with regard to the VVER-440s, with specialized assembly designs developed by Rosatom for individual units, Lorenz and Slivyak warned. Fourteen such reactors operate in EU states, and two in Ukraine. 

Most of these units, however, have already reached the end of their original lifetime, Lorenz, who authored the report, said in the introduction, adding that “a well-prepared phaseout of nuclear power would be the economically and politically most sustainable answer.”

Slivyak confirmed this as he spoke over Zoom, saying a swift shutdown of 14 reactors using Rosatom fuel is a difficult measure to implement – but not an impossible one.

He cited as an example the immediate closure of RBMK reactors, of the design built at Chornobyl, following the devastating catastrophe at the plant in 1986. And 54 reactors, as was pointed out during the Zoom discussion, were taken offline in Japan in the wake of the Fukushima disaster in 2011. Of those, as of early April 2022, only ten have been restarted. 

Slivyak also highlighted a stark lack of a discussion of a possible plan of action in case Russia itself decided to cut Europe off its uranium or fuel assembly deliveries – much like it did at the end of April with gas supplies to Bulgaria and Poland following refusal to give in to Moscow’s demand for payments in roubles.

“A plan to replace nuclear energy with energy from other sources must be created, and the [Russia-dependent] operating reactors must be shut down,” Slivyak said.

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