Nuclear Energy

Russia was the first country in the world to start producing “peaceful” nuclear energy; the first small station, in Obninsk near Moscow, was opened in 1954 and is still operating today. Russia currently has 10 functioning stations with over 30 reactors. This is fewer than the United States has (105 reactors), but it still represents a lot of energy production capacity. In fact, Russia is the fourth largest nuclear energy producer in the world after the United States, France, and Japan. The largest stations are all concentrated in the European part: Kalininskaya in Tver Oblast (2,000 MW); Smolenskaya near Smolensk, west of Moscow (3,000 MW); Novovoronezhskaya near Voronezh, southeast of Moscow (1,800 MW); Kurskaya (4,000 MW); Leningradskaya (4,000 MW); and so on. There is even a small nuclear station at Bilibino in distant Chukotka to serve local electricity needs. It was built as an experimental facility in the Arctic in one of the coldest places on earth. Most stations in Russia now use water-cooled VVER-type reactors, not RBMK graphite reactors like the one that exploded in Chernobyl. Thus the nuclear stations of Russia are reasonably safe. Overall, Russia produces a surplus of electric energy, which is exported to its neighbors via power lines.

Construction of new nuclear reactors has been put on hold since the Chernobyl disaster of 1986, but is now being discussed again as the country struggles to meet its obligations under the Kyoto Protocol, and also as the energy from coal and natural gas gets more expensive. Overall, there is little opposition to new nuclear stations in Russia today; there is understandably more opposition in Ukraine, where Chernobyl is located. Although the Chernobyl accident is still painfully fresh in the public memory, many politicians now consider it to have been an extremely unfortunate accident that involved an obsolete reactor and was easily avoidable with proper precautions. It remains to be seen whether local opposition in Russia or other FSU nations will be able to stave off the return of the “peaceful atom.”A major issue is safe disposal of spent nuclear fuel waste. Russia must process its own, plus additional waste from Western Europe (especially France). The Russia–U.S. program of reprocessing old Soviet nuclear warheads is helping to generate electricity inside the United States, but does little to solve the domestic disposal of “peaceful” fuel in Russia.