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    The state will increase investment in the nuclear energy industry from 18 billion rubles ($660 mln) in 2007 to more than 80 bln rubles ($3 bln) in 2009, Russia's economic development and trade minister said Wednesday.

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    MOSCOW, September 13 (RIA Novosti) - The state will increase investment in the nuclear energy industry from 18 billion rubles ($660 mln) in 2007 to more than 80 bln rubles ($3 bln) in 2009, Russia's economic development and trade minister said Wednesday.

    "In 2007, state investment in the nuclear energy sector will be 18 billion rubles ($660 mln), in 2008, 53 billion rubles ($2 bln), and in 2009, over 80 billion rubles ($3 bln)," German Gref said.

    He said earlier the ministry had forecast a 2.5% increase in electricity consumption in the first half of the year, but it had grown more than 5% in the reporting period.

    Gref said the investment sources had yet to be determined, but added that funds could be raised by Russia's electricity monopoly Unified Energy System from the sale of its power-generating assets.

    Sergei Kiriyenko, head of the Federal Agency for Nuclear Power, said Tuesday nuclear energy must replace the share of natural gas in Russia's energy balance.

    Russia's reserves of coal and natural gas could be depleted in fifty years. But with around 8% of the world's uranium output, Russia is planning to mine 60-70% of its uranium needs by 2015, with the remainder coming from joint ventures in former Soviet republics, particularly Kazakhstan, which holds 25-30% of the world's uranium reserves.

    "There is no alternative to the development of nuclear power in Russia, which must replace power generated using natural gas," he said.

    Russia has the world's largest reserves of natural gas and has become a crucial exporter, particularly for Europe. But the nuclear agency head lauded his sector, saying it was growing regardless of military projects, as market-economy mechanisms were playing an increasingly important role.

    Some European governments, in particular the United Kingdom, have decided to look toward atomic energy to provide for their future needs despite environmental activists' protests. And Kiriyenko said the revival of the nuclear sector in his country had been caused by growing energy consumption, a lack of new energy sources in the foreseeable future and unjustified hopes that energy-saving mechanisms could solve an energy deficit.

    Russia currently has 10 operational nuclear power plants with 31 reactors, but Kiriyenko said Russia would need another 300 gigawatts from new plants to cover a projected energy deficit in the next 30 years.

    Kiriyenko highlighted several key areas in the nuclear industry's development: the division of the industry into the military and civilian branches, budget spending on the construction of nuclear power plants to ensure a 2 GW annual increase, the adoption of a nuclear and radiation security program, the establishment of a single mining company, international centers for nuclear cycle services, the development of fast-neutron reactors and a serial construction of new power units.

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