Despite the difficult economic situation and sanctions, Rosatom's exports will grow by about 15% by the end of the year compared with 2021, Rosatom Director General Alexei Likhachev said in an extensive interview with Izvestia. Countries where new projects are already underway or are beginning include China, Turkey, Egypt, Hungary, India, Bangladesh, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. 

“Fifteen years ago, a decision was made to establish state corporation Rosatom. This historic decision made it possible to unite under one umbrella with a single management, the entire cycle - from uranium mining to the decommissioning of facilities. This is unique - nothing similar exists anywhere in the world,” he said, adding that great progress had been made in those years” both in terms of quality and quantity”

More than 10 nuclear units had been built in Russia and electricity generation records had been regularly broken. “This year the goal is 223 billion kWh.” He added: “We were also the first to build and then export new generation 3+ reactors – the powerful VVER-1200 reactors.” He noted: “These are capital-intensive facilities, they are built for a long time and require fairly large capital expenditures. Nevertheless, the estimated life is from 60 to 100 years, given certain conditions. This means that capital investments are amortised over a very long period. And the unit cost of electricity is attractive.” 

Moreover, fuel represents a very small share of this cost - a few percent. “This means that we are independent of the commodity markets. And, being at the same time among the largest players in the uranium market, the supply is sustainable.” He noted that Russia plans to increase the nuclear share from 20% to 25% by 2045. “This programme, which involves the construction of dozens more power units in Russia, is already being implemented.”

Likhachev acknowledged that the current global situation “does not make life easier for us” given the negative impact over the last two or three years. “First, the pandemic has had an impact. And it was not so much the restrictions on movement that affected, but the complete destruction of global logistics, supply chains. And second, the current situation brings a huge number of restrictions. But even in such conditions, our portfolio of foreign orders for 10 years ahead is stable at the level of $200 billion. This means that foreign revenue is growing year by year.”

He added that the 15% growth expected this year “is far from the limit” bearing in mind the contracts that are already being implemented including the supply of fuel, enriched uranium products, and conversion services and the construction of 23 nuclear power units in a dozen countries. Relations with customers are “very friendly” and “we overcome the difficulties that arise” In some places work is ahead of schedule, for example, in China and Turkey. In others new construction sites are being prepared as is Egypt and Hungary. “In India and Bangladesh, we are already discussing new sites.”

He explained that Russia’s strength in terms of exports is “that we never offer or sell just a station”. He added: “We sell a way of life - from training personnel, creating a nuclear infrastructure, assisting the country in the implementation of legislative initiatives, and ending with the training of personnel. We work with scientific organisations, with the academies of sciences of partner countries, we cooperate with civil society, parliament, non-governmental organisations.”

He said the only project where foreign activities have not gone well is the Hanhikivi-1 project in Finland which was cancelled by the government. “The first wave of litigation has already passed. And the international arbitration, consisting of representatives of only Western European countries, issued an unequivocal verdict. Firstly, the Finnish side was denied presentation of financial claims. Secondly, an unequivocal decision was made that the contract was terminated illegitimately. This was the first and main decision that we have been waiting for.” On this basis, he added, “we will further develop our relations with our Finnish customer, who, of course, made an absolutely politically motivated decision.”

On the subject of floating NPPs, Likhachev said: “The Arctic is a huge responsibility and it rests with us to organise the entire movement along the Northern Sea Route. This includes the construction of icebreakers, support for our Arctic projects in terms of infrastructure, development of sea channels and terminals. All this work is in full swing. The issue of providing energy in remote locations, at production sites, in cities where people live, is the number one issue. It is necessary to localise the generation directly on the spot, and we have such experience.”

He continued: “Now we are implementing the first order, already a massive one, for four floating NPPs with powerful Ritm-200 reactors, which have been well tested on icebreakers. This flotilla in the second half of the 2020s should provide electricity to the large copper deposit Baimsky GOK, a joint Russian-Kazakhstan project with huge potential and fairly large capital costs. After extensive calculations and studying different types of generation, the project management settled on nuclear generation - this is the construction of four floating NPPs and the provision of all electricity needs through them.”

But these reactors are not limited to floating plants. “There is also a ground modification. And the Kyuchus gold deposit in Yakutia is also a platform for us. The gas workers involved in LNG terminals are also working with us on the issue of creating entire fleets of floating nuclear power plants. Moreover, with more powerful Ritm-400 reactors.” He added: “Foreign partners with a large coastline are also actively negotiating. We have already opened this page.” 

As to nuclear medicine, Likhachev said this has long been in development. “It's just that the events of recent years, and especially recent months, have increased the demand for Russian progress in this area. And we were ready to meet the increased demand. “Today we are completely replacing and are ready to replace in future all imports of isotope products. The main task is not only to supply medical isotopes, but also to learn how to quickly turn them into radiopharmaceuticals. Today we are actively working with the Russian Academy of Sciences, with our medical institutes, with the Ministry of Health, in order to resolve this issue.” 

He noted that a factory for large-scale production of radiopharmaceuticals is being built in Obninsk to provide drugs for treatment, diagnosis and prevention of cancer. “We now see a serious shortage in tomographs. After all, these were almost 100% foreign deliveries. We are developing our own line at an accelerated pace. We very much hope that by the middle of the 2020s we will be able to start meeting the demand for MRIs that are Russian-made.” Two new facilities have already received medical confirmation certificates and their mass production has begun. These are the Brachium gamma-ray complex and the Onyx accelerator. “Both devices are very attractive in terms of price and maintenance costs. And technologically, they not only meet the economic parameters, but also exceed the performance of their competitors. We have been developing these for quite some time. But there were problems with demand.”

He explained: “Our medical institutions were mainly dependent on imports, which flowed like a river, and everything seemed to be fine. But now we understand that it is necessary, on the contrary, to invest as much as possible in the production of our own equipment. We are not asking for any investment. We only need guaranteed demand, for example, a long-term government order. And as soon as we understand this long-term guaranteed demand, we will find both the strength and the money to satisfy this demand.”

For the future, Likhachev outlined three tasks. “The first is to consolidate and expand our role as a global nuclear player, the absolute world leader in nuclear technology. This is very important for the country. This is very important for Russia's place in the global chain, in the global division of labour.”

The second issue is technological sovereignty. “We must achieve absolute global competitiveness. We are talking about power engineering, arctic shipbuilding, quantum or photonic computing. And in alliance with Russian scientists, with international institutions, with the Russian Academy of Sciences, we must move forward.”

The third consideration is the social aspect. “All decisions and tasks are unthinkable without the constant improvement of humanity. Our entire nuclear industry was created in new cities. And next to the factories, residential areas have always been provided, and theatres and museums have been created. Therefore, we will not be able to solve either the first or the second task without people who are passionate and involved in the process, sees their goal as solving the above tasks.” 

Image: Rosatom's Director General, Alexei Likhachev (courtesy of Rosatom)

Date: Wednesday, 04 January 2023
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