WikiLeaks: Russia's Nuclear Projects Abroad 'Fantasy', Belene Included - US Ambassador

Friday, August 26, 2011

Russia's state nuclear company Atomstroyexport – which is technically supposed to build Bulgaria's Belene NPP – is facing severe shortages, according to a freshly leaked diplomatic cable of the US ambassador in Moscow.

The cable by John Beyrle, US Ambassador to Russia who was the US Ambassador to Bulgaria before going to Moscow, dated April 3, 2009, was released Thursday by WikiLeaks and their Bulgarian partner

It is entitled "Russia's Atomstroyexport Cannot Fulfill Existing International Nuclear Energy Contracts, But Seeks New Ones."

"Russian policymakers are relying on Russia's competitive advantage in civilian nuclear power to help it diversify its natural resources-based economy," Beyrle says in his cable, continuing, "Atomstroyexport, Russia's international nuclear power plant constructor is diligently pursuing construction contracts for 11 new nuclear reactors in India, Iran, Bulgaria, and Ukraine. It is in active discussions on another six reactors (two in China and a Build-Own-Operate plant with four reactors in Turkey). At least four other countries have stated their interest in having Russian-design reactors as their entry into the nuclear power arena. However, the crunch on credit, insufficient machine-building infrastructure, and a paucity of trained specialists make it unlikely that Atomstroyexport will be able to realize all of these plans soon."

The list of Atomstroyexport's foreign projects provided by Beyrle includes what is supposed to become the second Bulgarian nuclear power plant, the Belene NPP.

"Bulgaria - Belene NPP (two units under contract): Russia won the tender in October 2006 and a 'turn-key' contract was signed in 2008. The cost is currently estimated at 3.997 billion Euros (.4 billion). Construction is scheduled to begin in spring 2009," Beyrle's note reads.

In his cable, the US Ambassador in Moscow cites Director of Atomstroyexport's External Affairs Division Leonid Yanko as saying that Russia's state nuclear company could cover its projects in China,

Yanko said two pathways are being explored to address insufficient Russian machine building capacity and related infrastructure needed to realize the projects.

"Former MinAtom Deputy Minister and now First Deputy Director General of the Institute of Natural Monopolies Problems Bulat Nigmatulin, Rosenergoatom Deputy Director Vladimir Asmolov (Ref C), and others have told EST that the lack of skilled nuclear construction personnel is the primary choke point for Russia's civil nuclear expansion plans. Nigmatulin noted that in the 1980s, Soviet Russia had as many as 55,000 skilled workers active in nuclear construction. Today, the number of Russia's skilled nuclear construction workers is closer to 5,000," Beyrle writes.

"Еven without the crunch the financial crisis could put on GOR loans, the lack of sufficient nuclear industry infrastructure and trained specialists will make it hard for ASE to fulfill existing contracts on time. It is extremely unlikely that ASE will be able to complete many of the NPPs in contracts it is currently negotiating within the timeframes being discussed. Even so, ASE continues to seek still more new contracts. As Nigmatulin declared bluntly, "these plans are a fantasy," the US Ambassador to Moscow concludes.

The Russian nuclear project in Bulgaria – the Belene NPP – remains highly troubled and its realization – highly questionable – amidst incessant haggling between Atomstroyexport and the Bulgarian National Electric Company NEK.

Full Text of the cable by John Beyrle, US Ambassador to Russia dated April 3, 2009, released Thursday by WikiLeaks and their Bulgarian partner is available here

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