Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Russia and America – Nuclear BFFs?

Sergei Kiriyenko Well, that’s going a little far – and silly, to boot. But the Russians have actually found a way to do a little nuclear business on this side of the world without setting off alarm bells.

Of course, we’ve noted many times the big bear’s activities around Europe and Asia, where it has competed with every other country, including the United States, with a developed nuclear business.

And, of course, there’s Iran, where Russia built the plant at Bushehr and, in so far as Iran can be leashed in its ambitions, Russia has an interest in not having its efforts corrupted.

If the tests [at Bushehr; this was written in February] are successful, [Iranian official Mohsen] Shirazi said it will clear the way for the use of nuclear fuel rods containing enriched uranium that was supplied last year by Russia under a contract estimated to be worth about $1 billion.

That fuel is currently under the seal of UN nuclear inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency …  [B]oth Russia and Iran argue that the Bushehr project is purely civilian and cannot be used for any weapons program. Iran has pledged that spent fuel from the facility will be shipped back to Russia.

Coldish comfort – Iran has an enrichment facility of its own - but there it is.

The American deal is not nearly so ambitious – or troubling:

"This is a revolutionary breakthrough," Rosatom chief Sergei Kiriyenko told reporters.

No, really, it’s not:

Rosatom announced a landmark deal Tuesday to supply U.S. companies with enriched uranium fuel, in what is the first commercial nuclear energy contract between Russian and U.S. corporations.

The agreement will see state uranium-trader Tekhsnabexport, a unit of Rosatom, provide enriched uranium to U.S. electricity companies Pacific Gas & Electric Company, AmerenUE and Luminant, officials announced at the Atomexport 2009 forum, which showcased Russia's efforts to become a world leader in atomic energy.

The contract with the three companies will run from 2014 to 2020 and is worth more than $1 billion.

The Russians really like the nice round sound of $1 billion – the story above uses it, too. And Kiriyenko may well have a point, as having the Americans buy Russian uranium may well encourage other countries to follow suit. We’ll see.

Another interesting tidbid from the same story:

More than 162 billion kilowatts were produced last year by the country's nuclear reactors, more than has ever been produced in a single year in either Russia or the Soviet Union, Kiriyenko said.

The country's uranium reserves total well over 1 million tons, enough to power both existing and planned nuclear reactors for the next 60 years, he said.

Kiriyenko did say, however, that Rosatom would postpone until 2014 a program to build two reactors per year because of a drop in Russian demand for electricity.

We’d prefer they built the plants to shutter less clean plants nearby or to supplement Russia’s electricity generation while the 21st century revs up. And that drop in demand probably speaks to the economy which likely speaks to the delay.

Sergei Kiriyenko, the Rosatom chief. In many photos, he looks so young as to doubt his authority – he’s 47, which this photo at least makes believable. Russian optics, maybe? Delicate features? Lunch at Dick Clark’s?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Clarification request: is Russia providing enriched uranium or fully fabricated fuel assemblies?