Russia decided to build a nuclear power plant in its westernmost region to ensure its own energy security, but the new power plant will also export energy to its European neighbors.
New facilities to be built in the special economic zone in the Kaliningrad Region will need guaranteed electricity supplies. Besides, the power bridge that supplies a considerable amount of the region's electricity is becoming increasingly fragile. The region will be badly short of electricity after the Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant in Lithuania, which supplies approximately 30% of the region's electricity, is shut down.
For safety reasons, the Baltic Nuclear Power Plant will not be built on the coast. A suitable site has been found after a year-long research in the eastern part of the small exclave, which occupies 13,300 square kilometers, some 120 km (75 miles) from the region's center, Kaliningrad.
Now that Kiriyenko has signed the order, the developers will need to receive permits and licenses and register the new project. The plant will be built by Rosenergoatom, the controller of Russia's nuclear power plants that was renamed Concern Energoatom in early August 2008, to a design by St. Petersburg's Atomenergoproekt, which has designed 18 nuclear power plants in Russia and abroad.
Previously slated as a twin AES-92 plant with two 1000 MW VVER-1000 pressurized water reactors, similar to those planned for Belene in Bulgaria, it is now to be the more modern and larger VVER-1200, also known as AES-2006. Another change to the plan is to commission the first reactor a year earlier, in 2015.
The Baltic NPP, worth 6 billion euros, will be Russia's first nuclear project to be built with foreign assistance. Under Russian legislation, nuclear power plants belong to the state, which holds a 51% stake in them. The remaining 49% in the Baltic plant will be offered to foreign partners, first of all European ones. The Russian government plans to attract foreign investors and nuclear organizations, which may supply equipment for the plant.
Rosatom will hold a tender to choose investors and is now analyzing their attitude to the project. Potential partners are clearly interested because involvement in the project will benefit them economically and give them access to an asset built on the border with the European Union. Some of them are ready to buy everything they can immediately.
The economic aspects of the project satisfy the generally accepted market rules, but the political aspect is a highly sensitive matter, because even wholly civilian nuclear projects often provoke unjustified fears.
Russia's EU neighbors are not happy with Russia having a nuclear power plant close to their borders. They argue that Europe has more than enough nuclear facilities and radiation risks are running high. This is indeed so, and the Kaliningrad Region is also located in the zone of risk.
But the truth is that the EU is worried by Russia's growing influence in the region, which a new nuclear plant will further strengthen.
Taking into account the European system of electricity interchange, the Baltic plant will be able to supply electricity far and wide. Experts say its two power units will help diversify Russia's foreign trade by exporting electricity produced by a nuclear power plant, which can be described as a high-tech product. Russia will make a strong geopolitical move through the Kaliningrad Region, which makes the EU unhappy.
The world needs more and more energy, and that need is feeding a desire to build nuclear power plants. Lithuania, which is being encouraged to shut down its Soviet-era Ignalina NPP, is preparing to build a replacement, Ignalina-2. Belarus will soon hold a tender for its first nuclear power plant, and Estonia and Albania would also like to have nuclear plants.
The countries that have recently learned to enjoy the benefits of energy sufficiency will most likely build more nuclear power plants. Finland is considering the possibility, and French President Nicolas Sarkozy said at a recent EU summit that France would expand its nuclear power program.
The Baltic Nuclear Power Plant, also called the Kaliningrad Plant, has already provoked energetic protests from its neighbors at the discussion stage, but the other EU countries have expressed their support for it.
One way or another, all of them will have to accept it as a fact of life now that Rosatom's chief has signed the construction order.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.