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Weaponized Rosatom. How Russia uses its nuclear plants abroad for blackmail and political pressure

Placed in international isolation after the invasion of Ukraine, Russia has become particularly active in using its energy resources as a weapon for political pressure. Everyone closely follows the oil and gas blackmail aimed at Europe, but few pay attention to the fact that nuclear energy is being used by Russia for political gain just as actively. For many years now, Rosatom has been building plants in developing countries “on credit,” thereby tying these countries to Moscow. Contracts to build plants are often corrupt: by bribing political elites in partner countries, the Kremlin makes their dependence especially strong. By threatening to cut off uranium supplies, Moscow hopes to win many countries to its side in the confrontation with the West.

ALL CARDS
  • Russia's Uranium Trap

  • Held hostage by Rosatom

  • A feat of unprecedented generosity: your nuclear power plant for our money

  • Akkuyu NPP scandal

  • Expanding for government funds

  • “Russian world” infiltrates peaceful atom

  • Hungarian project lobbyists

  • Countries eyed by Rosatom

  • South African failure

  • Fighting Rosatom influence

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Russia's Uranium Trap

In March, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandr Novak said for the first time since the beginning of the war that Moscow may restrict supplies of uranium, a radioactive metal used to make nuclear fuel, to Western countries. The statement came amid repeated assurances by Rosatom, the state nuclear energy corporation, of its reliability as a partner and impeccable performance of contracts. The same was said by Gazprom shortly before it reduced, and in some countries (such as Denmark and the Netherlands) completely stopped gas supplies.

“Rosatom has not blackmailed Western countries as openly, but one would hardly expect a state corporation to behave differently in a similar situation. Cutting off uranium supplies may lead to the fact that both the U.S. and other countries will be deprived of raw materials for nuclear fuel of their own production, and this will provoke disruptions in the operation of reactors around the world,” the U.S. Department of Energy says.

“We have the largest nuclear fleet in the world, and we currently do not have the capability to provide fuel for all of our reactors,” says Cathryn Huff, assistant U.S. Secretary of Energy.

The fact is that although Rosatom accounts for only 6% of global uranium production, the corporation controls more than 45% of the global market for uranium processing and enrichment – the processes necessary to use the raw mineral as fuel in nuclear power plants. The European Union buys about 40% of enriched uranium from Russia and Kazakhstan. Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Finland, Hungary and Slovakia depend on fuel supplied by Rosatom.

The situation in the United States is also difficult. Russia, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan supply about half of the United States' total uranium needs, and some of Kazakhstan's uranium also goes through Rosatom. Experts have previously warned that such dependence threatens national security and requires diversification of supplies and processing. However, not enough has been done in this direction. For example, the United States eliminated its own enrichment industry in the 1990s. It was assumed that there would be no need for it after the HEU-LEU Agreement, or the Great Uranium Deal, was entered into in 1993 as part of the disarmament program. The treaty between Moscow and Washington envisioned that the United States would obtain fuel for nuclear power plants from supplies of Soviet weapons-grade uranium, which would be converted to low-enriched uranium prior to shipment.

Russia, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan meet about half of the United States' total uranium requirements

In the case of uranium, world leaders did not appreciate the real danger of dependence on Moscow. If Russia does limit its supplies, it will take Western countries by surprise. However, Rosatom has other means of influencing foreign states with the help of peaceful atom.

Held hostage by Rosatom

Rosatom, according to its own data, controls over 70% of the global NPP export market and is currently building 35 power units in 12 countries. Of those, only seven are under active construction: in India, Bangladesh, Turkey, China and Russia. These are the so-called Russian-designed NPPs based on the VVER-1200 and VVER-440 pressurized water reactors. Rosatom considers them as promising models in terms of mass production.

As a rule, along with the construction of a nuclear power plant, a contract is signed for the supply of Russian nuclear fuel by Rosatom's fuel subsidiary TVEL. A country that has signed a contract to build a Rosatom nuclear power plant becomes dependent on Russian fuel, specialists and technology for decades, experts say. Russia also has to be involved in the after-sales service and training of local specialists. It is extremely difficult and expensive to convert Soviet or Russian nuclear power plants to European or American equipment. This peculiarity is a problem for the customer countries, but for Rosatom and the Russian authorities it is a huge advantage that can be used as a powerful political lever.

Kazakhstani political analyst Dosym Saltayev has said that “a state that pushes its nuclear reactor to another state expects to tie its partner for many years with various obligations”:

“The biggest threat is not the radiation danger of nuclear power plants, but the “Russian embrace.”

Kazakhstani energy and economic expert Aset Nauryzbaev believes that with a Russian supplier, there will be no other way but to carry out all its commands:

“In the case of the West, it's a little easier, we can have a certain freedom of movement. However, with a Russian supplier we will be definitely tied to Rosatom, to its fuel rod production technology. Accordingly, it is of great political importance because it will become the most powerful means of pressure: either we buy fuel for 25 years in advance and keep it here, although it costs a lot of money! Or periodically face the problem of where to get the fuel”.

A feat of unprecedented generosity: your nuclear power plant for our money

Rosatom manages to persuade potential clients by means of incredibly attractive contract terms, that other countries never offer. Rosatom builds NPPs using a system of government loans that cover 100% of the project cost; that is Rosatom is willing to build a plant effectively at the expense of the Russian budget. It makes no sense for the customer countries to refuse a nuclear power plant built at the expense of foreign taxpayers' money.

For the Russian economy, such contracts carry huge risks and are economically inefficient. Loans are often interest-free or at a token rate. The risk of non-repayment is high. But since foreign expansion has more political than economic significance for Russia, the authorities are willing to turn a blind eye to the costs in favor of future foreign policy benefits.

For Rosatom, foreign expansion has more political than economic significance

“Nigeria, Bangladesh, Vietnam would gladly let you build a nuclear power plant. Bring your money, your technology, then in 30 years your investment will be recouped from the fees,” says Konstantin Simonov, Director of the Energy Security Fund.

In Hungary, Rosatom was going to build Paks-2 NPP mainly at the expense of a EUR 10 billion government loan. In Finland, during the construction of the Hanhikivi-1 nuclear power plant worth 6.5 billion euros, the Russian state corporation assumed most of the financial risks, namely 5 billion euros. Half of those funds were supposed to come from the National Welfare Fund. Rosatom was unable to get any tax benefits or any other preferences but was ready to meet any conditions - just to build a nuclear power plant in Finland.

Still, Rosatom managed to pull off its most impressive feat of unprecedented generosity in Turkey. The Akkuyu NPP is being built there using an interest-free government loan of over 20 billion euros. The plant is being built according to the BOO (build-own-operate) principle. It is owned by a Turkish legal entity whose founders are companies based out of Russia. The Russian side will be involved in supporting the project at all stages: from design to decommissioning. The agreement was entered into without any financial obligations on the part of Turkey. The Russian budget will have to pay for everything: from the disposal of radioactive waste to the training of Turkish personnel in Russia and the decommissioning of the reactors. All this may cost approximately the same amount as the construction of the NPP. The consequences of an accident, if it ever occurs, will also have to be managed with Russian taxpayers' money, and in such event the sum may turn out to be infinitely large.

Assembling the reactor building at Akkuyu NPP  akkuyu.com
Assembling the reactor building at Akkuyu NPP akkuyu.com

“Nowhere in the world are nuclear power plants built according to the “build-own-operate” principle with a fixed electricity sales price in dollars set for 25 years in advance. And not a single government export credit agency (USA, France, Korea, etc.) offers its money for free: the loan rate today is at least 4-5%,” wrote Bulat Nigmatullin, former Deputy Minister of Atomic Energy of Russia, who demanded to terminate the agreement.

Not surprisingly, Ankara did not join the sanctions against Russia and also abstained from voting to suspend Russia's powers in the Council of Europe. Bangladesh, where Russia is also building the Ruppur nuclear power plant, also condemned the sanctions.

At the same time, the construction of Akkuyu will substantially increase Turkey's dependency on Russia for decades. When launched, the nuclear power plant will meet about 10 percent of the energy needs of the entire republic, while Ankara also receives half of the required amount of gas from Russia. According to the head of Rosatom, the state corporation plans to stay in Turkey for a period of up to 100 years.

Akkuyu NPP scandal

Moscow and Ankara signed an agreement to build a nuclear power plant in 2010. It was agreed that a Russian-Turkish joint venture (JV) should be the main contractor, but this year Rosatom tried to remove the Turkish company from the construction process.

The general customer of the Akkuyu project was Rosatom's subsidiary Akkuyu Nükleer A.Ş., which was established in Turkey with the sole purpose of managing the project. Titan-2 IC Ictas, a joint Russian-Turkish company, was the main contractor for construction, technical consulting services and equipment supply. It was established by the Russian Titan-2 concern and Turkish İçtas Inşaat Sanayi ve Ticaret A.Ş, Turkey's infrastructure market leader. It was İçtas Inşaat that carried out most of the work at the NPP. In July Rosatom suspended the company from doing any work on the project. All of the company's employees had their passes blocked, and the work actually stopped.

İçtas Inşaat called the actions of the Russian side unlawful and said that in this way Akkuyu Nükleer is trying to reduce the involvement of Turkish companies in the project, leaving them at the level of subcontractors. İçtas Inşaat filed a lawsuit, and the court ordered the company's equipment to be sealed as a means of protection. However, Russian employees broke the seals and tried to appropriate the equipment by replacing serial numbers and names on it.

Broken seals at Akkuyu NPP  Ankahaber.ne
Broken seals at Akkuyu NPP Ankahaber.ne

Later it was reported that Rosatom's Akkuyu Nükleer had replaced Turkey's İçtas Inşaat with TSM Enerji, a company established by three Russian entities: Titan-2 (49% of shares), Installation and Construction Directorate No. 90 (25.5%) and Sosnovoborelektromontazh (25.5%). Thus, the management of the project was transferred from a Russian-Turkish contractor to a wholly Russian one.

Turkey's Tele 1 reported that the contract termination consequences were quite tangible for Ankara. The daily production of concrete decreased from 2,500-3,000 at its peak to 200-300 cubic meters. 7,000 to 10,000 skilled construction workers were laid off. Most importantly, the construction deadlines were automatically pushed back 1-2 years under such circumstances. This ruined Recep Tayyip Erdogan's plans to ceremonially start up Unit 1 on the eve of the Turkish Republic's centenary, using the occasion as an election asset in 2023.

Rosatom cited numerous violations by the Turkish company as the formal reason for terminating the contract. However, according to analysts, the threat to exclude the company was an attempt to pressure Ankara to force Turkish companies to buy a 49 percent stake in the Akkuyu project and thus take over some of the construction financing. According to the intergovernmental agreement, the plant was to be built at the expense of the Russian government loan, but the document also envisaged a possibility of a stake in the project being sold to foreign investors. Negotiations had been going on for several years, but in the end all Turkish companies refused to participate. Including the Turkish side would have eased the burden of financing for Moscow, which became especially important after February 24 and the imposition of sanctions on the financial sector, when Russian faced difficulty in finding funds for the next installment. However, the Turkish side was in no hurry to invest – because of the crisis in its own economy.

Presumably at the Sochi talks, Erdogan was able to convince Putin to continue Russian funding in full. However, in return, he had to agree to Moscow's condition to replace the Russian-Turkish contractor with a company that is fully controlled by Russian legal entities. In other words, he had to make a decision that, in the opinion of Turkey's opposition politicians, has put the country's national security at risk.

After the meeting in Sochi, Akkuyu Nükleer said it had re-signed a contract with the ousted İçtas Inşaat. According to sources, it helped Erdogan save face by bringing “his” company back into the project. However, in fact, the company has been prevented from its participating in the construction and launch of Unit 1. Whether the company will build other Akkuyu reactors is still unknown.

Expanding for government funds

The “build-own-operate” principle is still rather an exception, believes Andrei Ozharovsky, a physicist, engineer and expert of the Radioactive Waste Safety program. In his opinion, Rosatom itself has been busy absorbing government funds:

“Rosatom benefits from any order for the construction of a nuclear power plant. There has been no growth in demand for electricity at home; there's overproduction, at least in the European part, because industrial production growth has stopped. Therefore, they need orders from abroad.”

The expert does not rule out that the political expansion narrative can be used by Rosatom itself in an attempt to get either funding or help from the Russian authorities in arranging agreements with country leaders to build nuclear power plants.

Ozharovsky does not put any faith in the theory that Rosatom's projects can become powerful tools of political influence. Whatever the Kremlin's intent, nuclear power plants are first and foremost energy facilities that belong to other countries and operate within their legal framework. Foreign governments, if they have the political will, may diversify fuel supplies, as was done at the Zaporizhzhia NPP:

“Of course, the presence of an enterprise on the territory of another country always means some kind of influence. But I would not say it's a decisive influence, I just do not know such examples. I don't think it can work that way. It's not that we can shut down the Loviisa plant in Finland or the Khmelnytskyi NPP, which run on Russian fuel.”

“Russian world” infiltrates peaceful atom

Rosatom's foreign expansion may have several fundamental goals: launching serial production of reactors, functioning as Putin's “second energy cudgel” and engaging in corrupt practices by absorbing government funds and getting rich, says Konstantin Batozsky, an energy expert who worked with Rosatom representatives in Ukraine.

The idea of foreign expansion in its current form is associated with the name of Sergey Kirienko, who was head of the Federal Agency for Atomic Energy from 2005 to 2016. One of his tasks was to create a “conveyor-belt model” of VVER reactors, which had never been achieved in the USSR. To do this, Rosatom needed a large portfolio of orders, which could not be based solely on domestic projects. According to Batozsky, that's how the ambitious idea of returning to the global market and aggressively selling Russian reactors came up:

“This idea went well with Putin's paranoia, which had already emerged by 2005, and gave rise to the idea of using nuclear power as the “second energy cudgel”, Gazprom being the first one. At the same time, methodologist Peter Shchedrovitsky, a consultant to Sergei Kirienko, developed an ideology to fit that set of ideas. According to the ideology, a nuclear power plant is not just an energy facility, but an instrument of state presence. A continuation of the “Russian world” idea.”

The idea “caught on” with Vladimir Putin. He gave Kirienko carte blanche to implement foreign nuclear projects, and ordered the involvement of Vnesheconombank, whose supervisory board he had chaired when he was prime minister of Russia. However, it turned out that Eastern European countries were afraid to work with Russia, as there was a chance that sooner or later they would get struck by the “Russian cudgel.” Then Russia had to use preferential conditions and propaganda. Rosatom began to sponsor all sorts of scientific conferences, symposiums and events. The corporation actively used the toolkit of “soft power”, not forgetting to absorb government funds and use the system of government loans for projects abroad.

Batozsky argues that this is when the scheme to embezzle government funds emerged:

“VEB.RF (called Vnesheconombank before 2018) lends to foreign construction projects, Rosatom builds. So that everything is as easy as possible for the buying country. It does not have to spend anything, it just signs a contract for a hundred years, and Rosatom builds everything with its own money, and then the country gets electricity at a fixed price for the first 20 years.”

Hungarian project lobbyists

Whenever nuclear power plant construction faces opposition, Rosatom engages lobbyists. Their methods are best illustrated by the example of Hungary, where negotiations on the Paks-2 project didn't bear fruit for a long time.

The Paks-2 project includes the construction of VVER-1200 reactors 5 and 6 at the site of the Paks nuclear power plant which was built back in the 1970s. Currently, four VVER-440 reactors are in operation there. An preliminary agreement to build Paks-2 was reached in 2013. According to The Insider's source, it happened through the efforts of one of the main lobbyists of the Russian presence in Hungary – Ukrainian/Russian crime boss Semyon Mogilevich, who is on the FBI's most wanted list and who might have provided Russia with kompromat on Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. According to The Insider, it could explain the Hungarian prime minister's pro-Russian “turnaround” in 2009.

In early 2014, Russia annexed Crimea. Due to the risk of sanctions against Rosatom, the Paks-2 project became practically unfeasible. Then the state corporation sent Alexander Merten and Vadim Titov to Hungary, they were supposed to lobby the project until its implementation. Both are said to be proteges of Kirill Komarov, Rosatom's deputy head. The Insider's source says they used opaque schemes to channel money to Hungary and other countries where Rosatom was operating:

“In Moscow, Rosatom would allocate funds for charity to a non-profit organization, with myriads of them around Rosatom. That organization would pour money into a shell company in Ukraine, ostensibly for marketing or sociological research or other services. That way Russian ruble-denominated government funds were converted into US dollar cash for a small fee. And in the same way US dollar cash from Ukraine would then be converted to euros in Budapest.”

Merten is currently managing the construction of nuclear power plants in Hungary. Previously, he worked in Ukraine, in particular, he closed deals for oligarch Vadim Novinsky's acquisition of the Kherson and Black Sea shipyards. Sources call him a friend of Rosatom's operational director Kirill Komarov - and his unofficial “wallet”. Even before the agreement with Hungary, Komarov made him vice president of Rusatom Overseas, Rosatom's subsidiary in charge of overseas projects.

According to The Insider's source, back then Merten was also given the ambitious task of lobbying for Rosatom's purchase of the Ukrainian nuclear power plant operator Energoatom, a national nuclear energy generating company:

“Rosatom wanted to buy Ukraine's Energoatom under Yanukovych because Ukraine is the largest market for Russia, 15 reactors are in operation there and everyone needs fuel. But it proved impossible to buy the company, particularly because of the presence of Yuriy Nedashkovsky at the head of Energoatom. He consistently opposed Russian influence, sought to diversify nuclear fuel supplies and did everything in his power to bring the Americans to the Ukrainian market.”

It was Merten who succeeded in having Nedashkovsky fired and instead appointing Nikita Konstantinov as head of Energoatom in Ukraine. Konstantinov fled Ukraine in 2014 and has been working in executive positions at Russia's Rosenergoatom. Still, the deal to acquire Energoatom was not closed. According to the source, “Yanukovych's innate greed” got in the way.

Alexander Merten, Vadim Titov  atomic-energy.ru
Alexander Merten, Vadim Titov atomic-energy.ru

Vadim Titov heads a private company, Rusatom - International Network. The source describes him as “an man from the entourage of one of Kirienko's favorite methodologists, Peter Shchedrovitsky,” the one who promoted the understanding of nuclear power plants as an element of Russia's presence. Titov speaks English fluently, which is rather an exception in the Russian nuclear industry. In Hungary, he has been involved in corresponding with the European regulator, which has prevented licensing the construction of a Rosatom nuclear power plant since 2013. According to the source, “Titov has been fighting [the European regulator] on the paper front for 9 years.”

Countries eyed by Rosatom

Moscow has been very persistent in its proposals for the construction of reactors in the countries where the Kremlin deems it necessary and possible to strengthen the Russian presence. First and foremost, those are Russia's neighbors. On two occasions, in 2019 and 2021, Vladimir Putin publicly proposed building a nuclear power plant in Kazakhstan. President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev also said the negotiations did take place, but no decisions have been made so far. Nor has the contract with Uzbekistan been concluded, although it was expected to be signed as early as 2019. It seems that the attack on Ukraine has forced the Central Asian states to think once again whether it is worth agreeing to be “embraced by Russia”.

Judging by Lavrov's recent African tour, isolated Moscow will try to sell more reactors in Asia and Africa. If Russia builds plants on the same terms as in Turkey, it will tie those countries to itself for decades. At the UN General Assembly meeting in March, only half of the African states supported a resolution condemning Russia. How these countries will vote at the UN General Assembly after signing contracts for Russian NPPs is not hard to guess.

So far, only Egypt has built nuclear power plants in Africa. However, Nigeria, Ghana, Zambia, Morocco and Rwanda have stated their need for peaceful nuclear power. Many cannot afford to build nuclear power plants on their own dime - and it is likely that they will choose Rosatom with its free government loans. Experts are also concerned about Russia's nuclear expansion in Africa because of security issues. Many states are still far away from being able to use nuclear technology.

Many countries in Africa will not be able to build nuclear power plants on their own dime — and it is likely they will choose Rosatom with its free government loans

Rosatom attempted to implement one of the most expensive projects in its history in South Africa, a country that already has an operating nuclear power plant. The project has become not so much an instrument of external influence as a way of enrichment for South African elites and former President Jacob Zuma.

South African failure

In 2014, South African President Jacob Zuma appeared in Moscow on an unannounced visit. He met with Vladimir Putin, accompanied by the head of intelligence and the deputy foreign minister. The purpose of the trip was not made clear at the time, saying later that Zuma was coming for treatment after the attempt to poison him. Three weeks later in Vienna, representatives of Russia and South Africa signed an intergovernmental agreement on a strategic partnership in the field of nuclear energy, which involved the construction of nuclear power plants based on Russian reactors.

The document was signed by the then head of Rosatom, Sergey Kirienko, and South African Energy Minister Tina Jomat-Petterson - and they hid it from the public for six months. Zuma's representatives claimed that the nuclear power plant contractor would be selected, as was customary, through a bidding process involving companies from the United States and South Korea, with which negotiations were also underway. However, when human rights activists finally got hold of the document and made it public, it turned out that the agreement with Russia was much more specific and detailed than similar agreements with other countries. In fact, it was a detailed plan for further work with Rosatom.

The document outlined the construction of eight Russian-designed reactors (VVERs) with a total capacity of up to 9.6 GW, greater than that of the Fukushima NPP, the most powerful power plant in the world before the accident. The $76 billion project could become one of the most expensive in Rosatom's history. By comparison, the Akkuyu NPP in Turkey cost $22 billion, and the El Dabaa NPP in Egypt cost $30 billion.

The document also prohibited the South African authorities from cooperating with other countries without Russia's permission; it didn't provide for any liability on the part of Russian suppliers in the event of a nuclear accident and granted tax preferences to Russian projects in South Africa, something not found in similar agreements with other countries. The provisions also implied that the agreement took precedence over any subsequent agreement within its scope.

In this way, the Kremlin attempted to wrest South Africa out of the West's orbit and create a partnership that could serve as a springboard for expanded influence elsewhere in Africa. The deal was based on Moscow's close ties with Jacob Zuma, who took over South Africa in 2009 and constantly promoted Russian interests until his resignation.

The Kremlin tried to wrest South Africa out of the West's sphere of influence

The South African opposition and environmentalists opposed the construction. They were outraged that Zuma had withheld details of the deal from parliamentary oversight. Such an expensive project could have shaken South Africa's financial system, then Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene warned. Zuma made Nene resign for refusing to approve the plan and provide a letter of assurance to Vladimir Putin. The president then took direct control of the process through a special energy commission – contrary to the existing procedure.

Control at the highest level was most likely due to the fact that the massive project offered limitless opportunities for corruption and was probably conceived solely for the sake of it. The main beneficiaries were Putin and Zuma, a Carnegie Endowment study argues. The former got an opportunity to expand his presence in Africa, choosing the most prosperous and influential country of the continent, while the latter got an opportunity to enrich himself at the expense of the project.

“The geopolitical value of a deal positioning Russia as a major actor in South Africa's economy (with an eye towards further expansion elsewhere on the continent) would have been far more consequential [than the economic value],” the study says.

Former South African President Jacob Zuma and Vladimir Putin  news24.com
Former South African President Jacob Zuma and Vladimir Putin news24.com

The South African opposition and local journalists agreed that it was not only the president of South Africa, but also the Gupta family close to him that counted on receiving large bribes and laundering public money. Those influential businessmen had built up a business empire in mining, IT and the media over a few years. Apparently, they set out to straddle the nuclear energy industry as well. In 2010, the Guptas became partners with Zuma's son, Duduzane. They bought a uranium mine with government funds and could have become suppliers for the country's future nuclear power plants had the project gone ahead. The U.S. warned at the time that the Guptas' expansion into uranium mining could have been backed by Iran and that uranium from the mine was destined for Iran's nuclear program. The Guptas also had Zuma install four Gupta allies on the board of the energy monopoly Eskom, which was preparing a tender for the construction of the nuclear power plant, thereby giving them a say in the management of the company.

However, Zuma never managed to implement the project. The High Court of the Western Cape in South Africa sided with environmentalists and the opposition, declaring the agreement with Russia illegal and unconstitutional. However, even after this ruling, Zuma continued to defend the project - the nuclear deal became history only after the corruption scandal and the president's resignation in 2018.

Fighting Rosatom influence

To reduce dependence on Russia, Ukraine upgraded some of the Soviet-built nuclear power plants without using Russian technology even before the war, replacing Russian nuclear fuel with American fuel from Westinghouse. It was Russian nuclear specialists' interest in the American technology, which poses a direct threat to Rosatom's positions in the global nuclear market, that experts cited as one of the reasons for capturing the plant.

Fuel assemblies of Russian design and Westinghouse design
Fuel assemblies of Russian design and Westinghouse design

The US company Holtec built a spent nuclear fuel storage facility at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. On June 2, Energoatom signed an agreement with Westinghouse, which envisaged conversion to American fuel of all the country's 15 reactors.

Not wanting to lose the Ukrainian market, Rosatom put spokes in the wheels of Enregoatom during the initial experiments with U.S. fuel. At first they used information warfare. The media touted apocalyptic scenarios according to which replacing Russian assemblies with American ones could cause accidents on an almost Chernobyl scale. There was also an incident in 2005 that went unnoticed by the Ukrainian and Russian media amid the “Orange Revolution”: Ukraine received a batch of defective TVEL assemblies filled with tiny spheres. Loading them into the reactor would have provoked deformation, but the Ukrainian specialists detected the defect in time and sent the assemblies back to the manufacturer. The defect was officially explained by failures of the assembly line in Russia, after which the investigation halted.

Finland was also considering fuel supplies from different manufacturers for the Russian-built nuclear power plant Hanhikivi-1. However, measures to reduce dependence on Russia turned out to be unnecessary: after the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, Finland terminated its contract with Rosatom for the construction of the nuclear power plant.

After the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, Finland terminated its contract with Rosatom for the construction of the nuclear power plant

“They [Russia] pay a huge membership fee. IAEA head Rafael Grossi's deputy is a Russian, Mikhail Chudakov, who does not call the war a war. The main reason why there are so many Russians among the staff is the high dues Russia pays. Ukraine doesn't have much money,” Olga Kosharna, an independent nuclear energy expert, told The Insider.

Well aware of the threat of new sanctions, Rosatom is trying to counteract them in advance and make it difficult to impose restrictions on its companies. Thus, even before the war, the concern decided to create a new legal entity to promote both high and low-capacity reactors in the global market. Most likely, Rosatom will be making its management structure for the projects abroad more sophisticated in order to ward off sanctions risks that keep growing as the war rages on. Rosatom's domestic projects are much more difficult to sanction.

“The task is to separate Rosatom proper, especially its military component, from the business of building nuclear power plants abroad, especially since Rosatom has rather ambitious plans in this area,” wrote Konstantin Simonov, director of the Energy Security Fund.

Some experts have no doubt that restrictions will be imposed in one form or another.

“Soon sanctions will be introduced against Rosatom, and no one in Hungary will build anything,” Batozsky believes. The introduction of restrictions is complicated by the fact that the corporation plays a major role in the enriched and raw uranium market. In particular, Rosatom supplies most of the uranium used in U.S. nuclear power plants.

But while almost no one in the West doubts the need for sanctions against Rosatom, African and Asian countries still haven't made up their minds. Cheap energy is attractive, and a nuclear power plant of your own is doubly attractive, especially if it is built at the expense of another state. The only question is whether potential customers of Rosatom will have enough political will to reject simple solutions offered by Russia. In other words, one will have to pay for Russian-made peaceful atom in the same way as for Gazprom's fuel - with one's own sovereignty. Or get ready for the “accidents” that Medvedev warned about.

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