Russia seeks to make nuclear power cost-effective

Making the case for nuclear power over coal or gas-based plants that hasten climate change, Russia`s atomic energy corporation has unveiled the "atomic kilowatt hour" as a new cost-effective product of immense importance to energy-hungry emerging economies.

Moscow: Making the case for nuclear power over coal or gas-based plants that hasten climate change, Russia`s atomic energy corporation has unveiled the "atomic kilowatt hour" as a new cost-effective product of immense importance to energy-hungry emerging economies.

“There is a new product called atomic kilowatt hour whose advantage makes it crucially important for countries newly arrived to nuclear power," Sergei Kirienko, chief executive of Rosatom, the state atomic energy corporation, told IANS here on the sidelines of the just concluded Atomexpo 2014 international nuclear energy conference in the grand 16th-century Gostiny Dvor exhibition hall.

"Atomic kilowatt/hour - a new product in the energy market" - was the theme of the sixth congress of the nuclear industry worldwide organised by Rosatom, the builders of the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project in Tamil Nadu.

"Any client company will, in the end, ask what the kilowatt hour (Kwh) price of the energy produced by the plant will be. For a developing economy like India, for instance, it is very important to know the price of electricity," said Kirienko, who served as Russia`s prime minister for five months in 1998.

"We have been studying the volatility of the raw-material markets and how the price for natural uranium and gas has been fluctuating. We know that the price difference is quite big, which reflects in the final cost of the electricity produced," he added.

"For nuclear plants, fuel makes up only 10 percent of operational costs, while for gas or coal-based stations, the fuel component is 60-70 percent. So if uranium prices double, costs will go up by 20 percent, while gas price doubling will result in a 70 percent hike. So, the kilowatt hour cost is the most important consideration for a consumer," he explained.

Rosatom controls the nuclear power holding company Atomenergoprom, nuclear weapons companies, research institutes and nuclear radiation safety agencies, besides representing Russia globally in the peaceful use of nuclear energy and in protecting the non-proliferation regime.

Kirienko exudes the satisfied air of a CEO whose organisation accounts for nearly one percent of Russia`s over $2 trillion GDP. In 2013, the company declared pre-tax earnings of close to $5 billion.

"Last year was a very successful one for Rosatom, also because the first Kudankulam unit was launched, which is an important milestone for us ", Kirienko said.

Unit 1 of Kudankulam reached its 1,000 MW generation capacity for the first time earlier this month. The second unit, also of 1,000 MW, is currently under construction.

"The year`s main feature was the growth of our foreign orders, almost up to $73 billion. Rosatom aims to grow its global order book to $100 billion this year, up 25 percent year-on-year, by securing new projects in India, Hungary, Kazakhstan and Iran," Kirienko said.

Currently building 29 units, 20 of which are outside Russia, and supplying nuclear fuel to 16 countries, Rosatom is the world leader in building nuclear plants in a business hit by global safety concerns after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, but which is forecast by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to recover to its pre-Fukushima levels.

"Today we are the only company in the world able to offer the full line of nuclear technological chain production, from uranium extraction to plants decommissioning," Kirienko said.

"We deliver not only the plant, but also its operating technologies, train personnel and also solve issues like contracting fuel, disposal of radioactive waste and spent nuclear fuel. We today are ready to offer solutions which will completely satisfy all our clients` needs, including funding," said the Rosatom head.

"Here we use strong support of our government, which helps us in inter-governmental financing," Kirienko said.

The construction costs of Kudankulam units 3 and 4 - of 1,000 MW each - are set to rise owing to the risk insurance involved under India`s nuclear liability law. The two units are to be partly funded by Russian government loans.

He also termed the protests around the Kudankulam plant, which delayed the launch of its first unit, as "futile attempts by vested interests to dent Russia`s special relationship with India, built by the father-daughter duo of Nehru and Indira Gandhi along with the Soviets", recalling how this had stood the test of time when Russia supplied uranium fuel in 2001, to keep the Tarapur plant running, even before India had received a Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) waiver to trade in nuclear technology.

After Russia`s first high-level contact with the new Indian leadership last week, its Deputy Prime Minister Dimitry Rogozin said Russia was eyeing a new "strategic vision" of bilateral cooperation with India in high-technology areas, with nuclear energy a key element.

The proposed areas of cooperation in nuclear energy, space and aviation "require a partner with significant intelligence", Rogozin told ITAR-TASS, referring to India`s hi-tech capabilities.

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