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Russia to upgrade, build nuclear plants

By
BOJAN SOC, UPI Science News

MOSCOW, July 11 (UPI) -- Russia's mid-term strategy for boosting its nuclear energy program relies heavily on cost-cutting actions such as repairing working reactors and completing construction of the plants that remain unfinished, energy officials said.

However, Moscow's ambitious plans to revive this sector of economy also include construction of new plants in several years' time. On Tuesday, Oleg Sarayev, chairman of Rosenergoatom, the state-run nuclear energy concern, announced by 2008 Russia would resume building new nuclear power plants. For the time being, he added, the corporation would focus on seeking cheaper solutions, such as upgrading existing plants and extending their period of service.

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"Calculations show that the extension of the working reactors' capability will (be) two or three times cheaper than to build new reactors and ... new plants," Sarayev told a news conference in Moscow.

Therefore, he added, Rosenergoatom would modernize existing reactors and finish building any whose construction was frozen at a stage of 50- to 70-percent completion due to financial problems.

"Over the next three years, we will modernize five of the 30 reactors that are currently working and finish construction of four more," Sarayev said.

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The head of Rosenergoatom's Public Relations Department, Andrei Polous, confirmed these predictions in a telephone interview with United Press International Thursday, specifying the projects announced by Sarayev.

"We plan to complete construction of four reactors at Rostov, Balakovo, Kalinin and Kursk," Polous said.

Operation of reactors at Kola, Leningrad, Bilibin and Novovoronezh will be extended by 15 years, on average, he said, adding two of the Kursk reactors would be modernized.

Asked about the eventual impact on Russia's economy and the energy sector in particular, Polous replied, "New facilities are only welcome. We have a positive attitude toward construction of new plants. The economy's stability depends a great deal on energy (supplies)."

Polous was reluctant to forecast the impact the program might have on electricity tariffs, arguing Rosenergoatom was only a supplier in the federal market controlled by Russia's monopolistic Unified Energy Systems.

"At any rate, the prices will be regulated by the market itself," said Polous. In early July, UES and Rosenergoatom signed a deal giving Rosenergoatom a 40-percent stake in the Inter RAO UES enterprise that sells Russia's electricity to foreign countries. According to the agreement, a unified operator created by Inter RAO UES will coordinate all export and import deals, thus giving Rosenergoatom the chance to participate directly in export sales.

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UES and Rosenergoatom will split export deals in the same 60-40 ratio applied in the internal market -- the former supplies three-fifths of Russia's electricity and the latter the remaining two-fifths. The deal also ends a long-standing conflict between the two giants over Rosenergoatom's attempts to export electricity to Georgia, Ukraine and Finland -- something UES has been blocking but now has been given a green light.

In recent years, UES chief Anatoly Chubais has pushed for a radical restructuring of the monopoly aimed at introducing Western-style competition in Russia's energy market.

The plan envisions splitting up UES, lifting tariffs and enacting other socially unpopular measures such as immediate cutting of electricity supplies to non-payers, particularly large businesses that owe the company enormous sums of money.

If achieved, the ultimate goal of the energy market restructuring could place electricity producers in a favorable position where they could sign

profit-making deals directly with customers -- including foreign importers -- instead of supplying set quotas to the Federal Wholesale Market of Energy and Power.

During his news conference, Sarayev said Rosenergoatom was cautious about energy reform because it would create an instant struggle with competitors.

According to Sarayev, the concern already is selling its entire output, so a competitive market would force it initially to lower current prices. For the same reason, Sarayev welcomed the decision of Russia's lawmakers in the State Duma to delay until fall passage of relevant legislation to push reforms in the energy sector.

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"The break will cool off hot heads," he said. Meanwhile, Russian nuclear power plant designers will continue developing designs for projects exepcted to be built in the next decade.

"At the moment, designing is in full swing for building the Novovoronezh-2 nuclear power plant," said Yuri Yermakov, head of Rosenergoatom's Designing and Construction Department, referring to a plant in southern Russia.

After Novovoronezh-2, the designers will develop the project for a new plant in central Russia's Bashkortostan autonomous republic, Yermakov said.

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