Почему «Росатом» нужен всему миру несмотря на войну | Как устроена атомная энергетика (ENG SUB)
After the intrusion into Ukraine Russia became the world’s champion in the number of sanctions taken against it. There are restrictions for politicians, oligarchs and propagandists. And also for business connected to the Russian government. Banks, extracting companies and state corporations. Aeroflot, Rostech, RZHD, Sberbank and many others – all of them under sanctions. But in this long list there is one unexpected exception – Rosatom. How did it happen that one of the biggest state companies which controls the civil nuclear industry and develops nuclear weapons, keeps working on the international market? Today we’ll discuss what protects Rosatom from sanctions and try to understand how the modern nuclear industry works.
I should say that the nuclear industry is not my area of expertise. And in this video we’ve relied on the experts in its professional part. THE ROLE OF RUSSIA IN A GLOBAL NUCLEAR INDUSTRY What is a nuclear reactor? Roughly speaking, it’s a gigantic boiler. There is a manageable fission reaction in it which results in heat. It heats water, and boiling water activates turbines which rotate power generators. Voila! Now you have electricity at your home! People started applying nuclear energy in the 1940s when the US, the USSR and Hitler’s Germany worked on creation of the nuclear bomb.
As we know, the Americans managed to do it first, but the leader in the nuclear industry was the USSR. Many people in our country think that Russia is behind the West in many respects since the USSR. Like they can do just one thing – to pump oil out of the ground. Of course, it’s not exactly true. In 1954 the USSR was the first country in the world
which launched the industrial application of the Obninsk Power Plant. And now our country is one of the most important players on this market. A bit later we’ll talk about Rosatom and the place of Russia in the global nuclear industry.
And now an ad for a friendly project on the verge of the coming New Year. ADS Let's continue! Everything that is somehow connected to the application of nuclear energy is controlled by Rosatom. It’s a huge state holding which includes 400 entities.
They are responsible for the nuclear industry, nuclear- powered fleet and the development of nuclear weapons. When the Russian army took over Zaporozhskaya nuclear plant in March, it also became Rosatom’s business. Just this fact is enough for sanctions. But Europe and the US are not ready to introduce them – Russia is so important in the global nuclear industry, that it’s impossible to stop working with it at once. Russia is a leader in the enrichment of uranium which is the fuel for nuclear power plants. 40% of this market belongs to Russia.
While the propagandists tell people on TV that the Russian army is leading war against Satan itself (aka NATO), Rosatom supplies to the US the fifth share of uranium they need and almost a third of services on its enrichment. The European airspace has been closed to Russia since the first days of the intrusion, but there is an exception – Rosatom’s planes keep delivering fuel for the Slovakian, Czech and Hungarian power plants. Those countries and Bulgaria are 100% dependent on Russian uranium, and the share of the nuclear industry there is 30-50%. Many European countries have stocks of nuclear fuel which will cover several months or maybe even a couple of years. But to find a substitution for Rosatom’s supplies will take even more time.
Moreover, Europe depends on Rosatom not just in terms of raw materials but in terms of technologies too. There are just three countries in the world who actively build reactors abroad. Russia is one of them. The other two are France and South Korea. Among 52 reactors being built abroad, 21 of them use Russian technologies. Modern reactors’ service life is at least 60 years, in reality it’s 80 years. And during all that time they need maintenance, components, fuel elements, and the disposal of nuclear fuel.
If you are building a nuclear power plant with Rosatom right now, you'll depend on Russia for several decades to come. After the war started, Finland canceled the contract with Rosatom on building a new nuclear power plant. But one of two working plants was built together with the USSR, and Russia is supplying fuel there.
The contract is active until 2030. Nuclear power plants which need Russian specialists for maintenance are also there in the former Eastern bloc countries. And in Turkey Rosatom is building a new power plant right now. The French Le Monde writes that refusing the Russian technologies will endanger the security of nuclear power plants. It will take years for the Europeans to develop and implement reliable alternatives.
And to risk people’s safety (even in theory) is the last thing the European politicians want. And here we have a big and interesting question, “Do people need nuclear power plants that much? Maybe it’s time to get rid of them?” Remembering horrible technological catastrophes of the past, the wish to close nuclear power plants looks like a wise and caring decision. Moreover, for the last 10 years renewable energy sources have become more affordable and cheaper – sun and wind energy provides one tenth part of power, more than the nuclear industry. Why do we need this controversial atom? We can just build wind and sun power stations. HOW DID CHERNOBYL INFLUENCE THE WHOLE NUCLEAR INDUSTRY The catastrophe which happened in 1986 on the nuclear power plant in Chernobyl was a real shock for everyone. Many people watched the TV series “Chernobyl” or read something about it, and heard what the elderly people say.
Those talks make us submerge into the past and worry about the future. What if it explodes again? Chernobyl made the already existing nucleophobia stronger – excessive fear of radiation. The democratic governments are dependent on what people think, so hard times started for the nuclear industry. Investments decreased, and in some places nuclear energy was prohibited. For example, a year after Chernobyl there was a referendum in Italy where the majority voted for closing all the nuclear power plants.
So, Italy was the first country in the world which stopped using nuclear energy. In 2011 there was one more plebiscite about this, but the time was unfortunate indeed – right after the catastrophe on the Japan power plant Fukushima. Naturally, people voted against nuclear power plants. In 2000 Germany followed this path too. Gradual rejection of the nuclear power was supported by all the parties sitting in Bundestag at that moment.
A year later Lithuania decided to close the Ignalina nuclear power plant – it happened in 2009. It was built in the USSR times and covered all the needs of the country in electricity. They even sold excessive energy abroad. But it had the same reactors as in Chernobyl. Although they were modernized after the Chernobyl catastrophe. However, the EU decided it’s still unsafe. Human brain works strangely and not always logically.
One-time catastrophes excite people much stronger than systematic deaths. When a plane falls, everyone talks about it. Each catastrophe gets maximum attention. Because of that, plane flights seem dangerous for many people. There are aerophobes who won’t go anywhere near a plane.
All in all, much more people die in car crashes rather than in plane catastrophes. According to WHO it’s more than 1 million deaths per year. But each separate car crash doesn’t look as horrible as a whole plane falling down. Media says almost nothing about car crashes, and it looks like nothing happens.
When the urbanists try to make the streets safer, they have to spend a lot of time explaining to people what’s wrong. Our attitude towards the nuclear industry is created in the same way. In reality the nuclear industry is one of the safest in the world. Likewise, planes are the safest transport. WHY IS NUCLEAR INDUSTRY SAFE The UN estimates that overall 4,000 people died as a result of the Chernobyl catastrophe. Fukushima took lives of 3 people, two workers drowned in a flood, and one person died a year later from cancer. There are data that say about 2,500 victims, but those data include people who died because of evacuation, diseases unrelated to radiation, and floods.
Of course, any life is valuable. But it’s also a fact that almost any human activity has risks. Nuclear industry’s risks are quite low. Energy production via burning the extracted fuel is accompanied by emission of harmful particles and tiny pieces.
According to different data, those tiny particles kill up to 10 million people per year. WHO is quite conservative in its estimations here and says there are 4 million deaths per year. But those are people who were poisoned by those particles on the streets. Almost the same number inhales those particles at home too because they use primitive stoves for heating and cooking on wood or coal. More often it’s women who cook in traditional societies and their children. It’s not hypothetic deaths, but very real ones. It’s not the worst scenario in case of a catastrophe
but our everyday reality we close our eyes to – likewise we ignore everyday deaths in car crashes. Nuclear power plants have no poisonous emissions at all because they burn nothing. According to American research, from 1971 to 2009 the nuclear industry saved 1 800 000 people from premature death.
But what if a catastrophe like Chernobyl happens? We grew up with a thought that there is nothing scarier than a nuclear explosion, and nuclear apocalypse is one of the most popular end of the world scenarios. But because we understand those risks, they are controlled strictly and minimized. The price of the mistake is so high here that the security systems developers include all possible failure scenarios and even more. For example, after the Fukushima catastrophe caused by the de-energizing of the power units, all the Russian nuclear plants acquired mobile diesel generators. And we don’t have earthquakes and tsunamis like in Japan which caused the Fukushima catastrophe. When you hear that in some nuclear plant a power unit has stopped, it’s not a sign of high risks, but quite the contrary.
A minimal mistake, and automation stops the reactor’s work to avoid the catastrophe. THE FUTURE OF THE NUCLEAR INDUSTRY AND IS THERE ANY PLACE IN IT FOR RUSSIA Nuclear industry is the only low-carbon energy source which is able to work 24 hours per day, 7 days per week in any weather. The international energetic agency thinks that in order to achieve carbon neutrality the global nuclear industry should grow twice by 2050. In 2021 the scientific center of the European Commission published a report on the nuclear industry and recommended to recognize it as an eco-safe energy source like wind, solar and wave energy. And it asked to support it in terms of the Green Course. Yes, humankind has moved forward in terms of development of alternative energy sources.
In recent years they’ve become much cheaper and more widely used. But the demand for energy grows much faster. By 2040 we will consume 30% more energy than in 2016. At the moment the alternative sources don’t substitute but complement the extracted fuel. Look at the example of Germany – they stopped using nuclear power plants and started developing “green energy” rapidly.
Now 40% of energy in the country is provided with sun and wind but it still doesn’t compensate for the closure of the nuclear power plant. The lack of energy is covered by coal and hydrocarbons. A paradoxical situation may occur when Germany becomes a leader in development of sustainable sources and the main producer of carbon emissions in the EU at the same time. But there are completely different examples too. Rapid economic development in China resulted in extremely dirty air,
and it became clear that they can’t burn coal forever. New nuclear power plants are being built there now along with solar and wind power plants. Great Britain, Netherlands, Poland, the Czech Republic and Sweden are going to build new nuclear power plants.
One of the leaders in the nuclear industry is France. Nuclear power stations produce up to 70% of all the electricity in the country. And of course, Russia plays an important role here too. No sanctions against Rosatom is a sign that the global energetic industry can’t exist without it. Moreover, we have a good start for the future. Russia is one of the countries which produce the so-called small reactors. In 2020 IAEA recognized 72 projects on the development of such reactors, and 17 of them are Russian-made.
Small reactors should eliminate some claims towards the nuclear industry like its expensiveness, long construction terms and safety matters. They plan to produce a series of most of the equipment in plants, and then assemble it on the spot. For now, to build a nuclear plant is a long and expensive business. For example, the nuclear power plant “Akkuyu” Turkey is building together with Russia will cost 22 billion dollars.
It might take 5-6 or even 10 years to build such a plant. It’s expected that it will take much less time to build modular reactors – maybe 2 or 3 years. The price is expected to be lower too, though it remains to be proven in practice. The safety profile of small reactors is determined by its size. The most dangerous emergency situation in the nuclear reactor is overheating and melting of nuclear fuel.
So, in case of the emergency there should be a huge stock of water for cooling the reactor. Small nuclear power plants have much less fuel so it would be easier to cool it down. Approximately 20 countries develop modular reactors, but just Russia and China have working power plants like this one. There is also a new generation type of nuclear power plants based on sodium fast reactors. Such reactors work on the biggest in Russia Beloyarsk nuclear power plant, and new type fast reactors should appear by 2026.
Its main feature is working in a closed cycle when spent fuel is immediately transformed and used again. This technology reduces the amount of waste and makes the power plant’s performance significantly higher. In short, Russia has got everything to remain the leader in the nuclear industry.
Although alternative sources like solar or wind sources are almost absent in our country, compared to other countries the Russian energy system is quite “green”. The share of low-carbon sources is 40% which includes nuclear plants and hydropower. The emission of poisonous substances from Russian power plants is lower than average in the world.
But there is a problem. It’s difficult to be an authority when you have started a horrible war with your neighbor. Signing contracts with Rosatom on building new power plants, foreign countries sign up for many years of cooperation. But who would want to plan anything with a partner who can do whatever it wants the next day? Even now most of Rosatom’s constructions are located outside Europe – in Asia and Africa. The German economic newspaper Hadelsblatt writes that Rosatom managed to avoid sanctions just because of France’s protection which has high expectations for the nuclear industry and it is Rosatom’s partner in nuclear power plants’ construction in other countries, for example, in Turkey. But the partnership with Russia becomes more and more toxic.
So, at some point the French may decide that there is no reason to spoil their reputation. And then they will become the fervent supporters of the restrictions for Rosatom. Russia has already lost most of the oil and gas market. But those are hydrocarbons Europe will get rid of some time in the future. But the nuclear industry is the future. It would be painful to lose it too.
For now, the news from the world of high technologies, for example, the development in Russia of a potentially “permanent nuclear reactor” sounds like news from the parallel universe. The reality we live in now is war, criminality, everyday stress and the feeling of losing solid ground under our feet. But amidst this darkness we should remind ourselves – Russia could have been different. We have a chance to make it different.
The main thing here is to banish the thought that violence, poverty, and destruction are normal, that it’s our usual lifestyle. This is not normal! We shouldn’t be manipulated into thinking that there is something wrong with our people who are just hopeless oafs. Like Russia wouldn’t do any better even without war. And if so, there is nothing to worry about. This, of course, is just bullsh*t.
We should constantly remind ourselves that we are smart and hardworking people who can do a lot of things. Yes, it’s very painful to be in a situation like this one. It’s much easier to calm yourselves down with the thought that Russia and the Russians are hopeless anyway. It’s easier to give up and agree to the idea of inevitability. But trying to calm down through self-humiliation we will get nowhere.
We mustn’t calm down, we mustn’t be OK with what’s going on. We should realize and keep a simple truth in mind even if we feel bad at the moment – if it wasn’t for this unnecessary offensive war, we would have lived in a completely different country. Even with all those vices of the current political system, that government would have been much better than this one. Because even in the heavy chains of Putin’s power, it turns out Russia could do a lot of things before the war.
Knowing that we should stop the war. We should recognize it and take responsibility. We should take this chain and give it to the museum in order to move forward without it and in the right direction. Before we finish, I’d like to say that we’ve made this video with the help of Dmitry Gorchakov who is a nuclear physicist and a former employee of the Russian Academy of Sciences and now he popularizes nuclear science and technologies. He’s got a YouTube channel, I’ll leave the link below. Till tomorrow!