The words ‘Chernobyl’ and ‘meltdown’ have flashed repeatedly across newspaper pages over the past few days, not for the reasons we might have anticipated a month ago (in reference to the upcoming 25th anniversary of the disaster, this April) but because the current crisis affecting Japan’s Fukushima plant has invoked comparison with (and in some cases contrast to, depending on how optimistic the outlook) the worst nuclear accident in history.
That event, it would seem, has not deterred Russia a quarter century on from building up a robust nuclear energy industry. Nor, it would seem, will the current catastrophe Japan is facing. State run nuclear workhorse Rosatom is strongly backing its existing power projects, with a verbal warning to Bulgaria to sign an agreement to resume construction of a 2,000-megawatt nuclear power plant on the Danube by 31 March, as well as triumphantly overseeing a $9.4 billion nuclear power deal with Belarus, a country which in sad irony suffered immensely from the Chernobyl accident. The FT considers how Rosatom is rallying the troops for a nuclear survival strategy, relying in particular on faultline-residing Turkey:
As the world’s largest oil producer, Russia has plenty to offer in the way of fossil fuels if the world turns its back on nuclear energy. But that won’t help Rosatom. As Sergei Kiriyenko, Rosatom chief, has admitted, the Japanese crisis will affect nuclear programmes generally.
But on Wednesday president Dmitry Medvedev put a brave face on the challenge. He met Turkey’s prime minister, Tayyip Erdogan, to discuss Rosatom’s plan to build a $20bn nuclear power plant at Akkuyu on the Turkish Mediterranean, one of the biggest foreign contracts in its portfolio.
Medvedev assured his Turkish visitor that the Akkuyu plant would be able to sustain the most destructive earthquake. “The project that will be realised at Akkuyu is fundamentally different from the one that exploded in Japan both in terms of size and the level of safety,” he said.
Erdogan appeared to agree. “The atomic station built in Turkey will be a model and an example for the whole of the rest of the world,” he said.
But that may not be enough to satisfy opinion in Turkey, where, as beyondbrics has reported, officials have gone into over-drive to reassure the public.
Meanwhile Rosatom subsidiary ARMZ is apparently attempting to back out of its friendly takover of Australian uranium company Mantra, on the basis that the Fukushima nuclear situation has caused adverse material change. Whilst Russia may be keen to emphasize the safety of nuclear energy through long-standing and lucrative foreign projects, it appears that the positive spin on fission has its limits when financial gain is at stake.