MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti commentator Tatyana Sinitsyna)
Winston Churchill famously called Russia "a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma." Well, here is one more enigma to add to the list: the paradox that though Russia is a great nuclear power, it is not "nuclear-intensive." Nuclear-generated electricity accounts for an average of 17.6% of its total energy output. Let's not forget, Russia built the world's first nuclear power plant in Obninsk in 1954, and 30 years later had 10 nuclear stations.
The triumphal march of the Soviet "peaceful atom" was brought to an abrupt halt by the Chernobyl tragedy. Russian society has not yet fully overcome its deep-seared radiation phobia. Trying to overcome the shock, Russia suspended its entire nuclear energy program. At the same time, without batting an eyelid, the French learned from the Chernobyl disaster and moved forward. This is why France now leads the world in nuclear electricity generation, which accounts for approximately 80% of its energy production.
Russia is fully determined to bridge the gap, and this is consonant with the nuclear renaissance taking place in the rest of the world. The government has just approved a master plan for the construction of energy generating facilities up to 2020. This road map embodies the plan that was initially outlined in the federal program for nuclear energy development adopted last year. Its main goal is to increase the share of nuclear-generated electricity in the total energy output.
According to the road map, starting from 2009, one nuclear unit will be commissioned every year, and from 2012, two units a year; this buildup will continue until 2020. Russia's current aggregate nuclear generating capacity of 23 GW will increase by a factor of 2.3 or 2.5. The WWER-1000 (Water-Water Energetic Reactor, producing 1,000 megawatts of electric power) will be the backbone of the plan. Serial units of this type will be upgraded with the latest technology.
However, Russia's Federal Agency for Nuclear Power advocates diversification and insists that these powerful reactors should be supplemented with medium-sized and even small units.
Viktor Ivanov, deputy director of the Medical Radiological Research Center at the Russian Academy of Sciences, said this about the road map: "The methods used in the elaboration of the road map are correct, but it is necessary to add a 'risk analysis.' It will scientifically determine the best location for nuclear-generating capacity and calm down those people who are still mistrustful of nuclear energy."
Russia is very rich in natural resources and has no reason to fear energy shortages. The government, however, is emphasizing nuclear energy because the world has no alternative in the foreseeable future if it wants a reliable source of energy. Moreover, the nuclear power industry will streamline the country's current absurd energy mix, in which 60% of thermal stations use gas. Gas must be replaced for the sake of both exports and future generations.
Professor Rafael Arutyunyan, deputy director of the Nuclear Safety Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, has expressed the following opinion: "In the next 50 years, the oil and gas issue will become more and more pressing. It would not be correct to rely on dwindling sources of energy, the demand for which will be tremendous on the global market. The nuclear power industry is capable of generating enough electrical energy not only in the medium-term but also in the long-term."
He believes that even when Russia increases its share of nuclear electricity to 20%-25%, it will not be nuclear-intensive enough. Nevertheless, this program is an absolute must. In 50 years, Russia will have to have a powerful nuclear industry to meet its energy needs.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.