Russia's Rosatom: "traditional unreliability" in the nuclear sector

Russia’s Rosatom is planning to build another nuclear power plant in Belarus. On November 7th as the country’s first reactor, at Astravets, was connected to the national grid for the first time, President Alexander Lukashenko, describing the event as "historic", began to talk about the possibility of another nuclear power plant in Belarus.

The ambitions of the disgraced and, in the eyes of the majority of his fellow Belorussians, unrecognised head of state are clear. In an effort to maintain power, Lukashenko is ready to do anything, even to build nuclear power plants on the territory of his country. He may be right - this plant, in fact, will forever go down in the history of the world nuclear industry, but not for the reasons he hoped.

Three days after the much awaited launch, on November 10th, the facility's output was suspended after several voltage transformers exploded. The project has, since the beginning, been plagued with such mishaps.

On July 10th 2016 workers dropped the plant’s reactor vessel during preparations for installation during a media event the following day. Social media postings by Belarusian officials suggested the 334-ton vessel “fell from a height of 2 to 4 metres,” a significantly serious accident, and one which Rosatom initially tried to cover up. Such a response to emergencies is one of the traditions of the Russian nuclear giant.

In December 2011 another reactor pressure vessel sent to the Astravets site by Rosatom collided with a concrete column at a train station close the Belarusian border.

For Lithuania, which rejected nuclear power in a national referendum in October 2012, and which had closed its one existing plant in 2009 prior to joining the EU, has expressed serious concerns in connection with nuclear operations in neighbouring Belarus, and has called on Minsk to stop the launch of the plant due to non-compliance with safety standards.

Astravets Newspaper

Trans: "Astravets plant is a crime".

Lithuanians consider the presence of the Astravets plant alongside their border as absolutely unacceptable.

But it is not only in Belarus that Rosatom displays its poor workmanship and low standards.

In Turkey Rosatom has on more than one occasion been obliged to fill in cracks in the foundations of the Akkuyu Nükleer Güç Santrali plant that were discovered before construction was even completed: the first time in the summer of 2018, and again in May 2019. This plant, which is scheduled to go online in 2023, will utilise the same reactors as are installed at Astravets.

The Rostov plant, at Volgodonsk, Russia, has also suffered mishaps. Almost immediately after the launch in 2015 problems with the cooling system were identified in the plant, and in September of this year, the fourth power unit of this nuclear power plant was damaged. Again, the problem was with the emergency cooling system of the steam generator, which had suffered a cracked pipe.

Disturbingly, given Rosatom’s appalling safety record, the company is also involved in Russia’s nuclear weapons programme.

Nenoska Explosion

At Severodvinsk, in Russia’s Arkhangelsk region, in August 2019 an explosion occurred at the naval training ground near Nenoksa, followed by a fire. The emergency occurred when testing a rocket with a radioisotope power source. As a result of the incident, five people were killed immediately, two died later from the effects of acute radiation sickness. The missile test was conducted by the all-Russian research Institute of experimental physics, which is part of the Rosatom nuclear weapons complex.

Vilnius’ concerns are understandable: it is dangerous to have such an explosive, in the literal sense of the word, and politically unstable neighbour as Belarus sharing your borders.

Other European countries have also been affected by Rosatom’s incompetence despite having no formal business with the company whatsoever.

In the summer of this year, monitoring services recorded an increase in the level of various radioactive substances in Norway, Sweden and Finland. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) launched an investigation, as it was not immediately possible to determine the source.

Greenpeace stated at the time "first of all, the Kola nuclear power plant (with four outdated VVER-440 reactors), as well as the bases of nuclear icebreakers of nuclear submarines of the Northern fleet, located on the coast of the Barents sea, fall under suspicion." In addition, according to Greenpeace, "a leak of reactor isotopes could have occurred at three operating Chernobyl-type RBMK-1000 reactors of the Leningrad NPP or at one of the new VVER-1200".

The IAEA's investigation is ongoing, but it seems that the answer is obvious.

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Gary Cartwright

Gary Cartwright

Gary Cartwright is publishing editor and Brussels correspondent of EU Today.

An experienced journalist and author, he specialises in environment, energy, and defence.

He also has more than 10 years experience of working as a staff member in the EU institutions, working with political groups and MEPs in various policy areas.

In October 2021 POLITICO described Gary as "the busiest man in Brussels!"

He is a of member the Chartered Institute of Journalists, a professional association for journalists, the senior such body in the UK, and the oldest in the world having been founded in October 1884

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