IN the concluding press conference at the recently-concluded ATOMEXPO-2017 IX International Forum in Moscow, Rosatom First Deputy CEO Kirill Komarov highlighted the fact that the nuclear energy industry has not only preserved its positions in the recent years, but has been growing and preparing for the future with a reinforced emphasis on safety. He also called on the world nuclear community to bring to the world more openly honest and truthful information about nuclear energy.
The forum is an annual event held on the initiative of Rosatom State Corporation and acknowledged as a major international exhibition and business venue to discuss the current state of affairs in the nuclear industry and shape the trends for its further development.
Komarov after a brief summary of what the ATOMEXPO-2017 IX fourum had discussed and achieved fielded questions from the global reporters who had been invited to the forum. Excerpts of the answers he gave in specific to the questions raised by Middle East journalists.
Q 1 What is his take on the possible renewable mix Saudi Arabia could envisage as it embarks on its Vision 2030 — a plan to reduce Kingdom’s dependence on oil, diversify its economy. Also could he elaborate on Rosatom’s stance on renewables?
Komarov: Thank you for your question. Unlike Moscow and the Moscow region, Saudi Arabia has more luck when it comes to sun — you have a lot of it. Nevertheless, Saudi Arabia’s example — which has vast hydrocarbon reserves, oil and gas, and gets so many sunny days per year, which creates an excellent efficiency for solar power generation, has made the decision to invest in nuclear power, is a very telling case. Because, for one thing, I believe that the underlying cause is of course the need to establish a sustainable energy mix, where there’s a focus on green power generation and a place for renewables and nuclear power, which serves for providing baseload power and the basic energy needs of the population and businesses.
For another thing, lest we forget, the creation of nuclear power capacities is not just a matter of solving the issue of electric power generation — it’s a whole different approach to science, education, industry and the level of technological development of the country because a nuclear power plant is one of the most complex infrastructural constructions that exist. This requires training a large number of people to build the plant, to operate it in the future, and to provide various maintenance services — that is, an entire ecosystem emerges around it. However, training these people in turn requires the development of corresponding educational programs and scientific research. All of this inevitably leads to the emergence of a whole cluster that forms around an NPP. The NPP is at its core but the cluster, or ecosystem, itself is far more than power generation: it’s the improvement in living standards, educational level and employees’ skills, and the emergence of brand new occupations and brand new industries.
In that sense, if – or rather, I believe, it’s a matter of when – Saudi Arabia begins to implement its ambitious nuclear power program, it stands every chance of not only providing itself with stable and clean energy but also of forming a new industry and take to a whole new level its education, science and research. And I believe that this is what informs any government’s decision-making.
As for Rosatom’s stance on renewables, you will be aware that we are actively pursuing wind power, and we do so specifically because it’s complementary to our core technical competences. You will surely know that, in Russia, the government made the decision that is simply not prepared to pay out subsidies or introduce increased electricity tariffs just because you’ve put up a wind installation, no matter where you got it from. The Russian government has taken the, I believe, absolutely reasonable stance that higher tariffs can only be introduced when there is a very solid level of localization of these wind farms within the country, i.e. that there’s been a transfer of technology, that jobs have been created, taxes paid, and new orders for the national industry created. These are all things that form the future tax basis because the state gets its tax payments from people’s salaries and enterprises’ orders – these payments are the basis for subsidizing these sort of projects.
Why did we decide to pursue wind power? Because we are already in the energy market, we know Russia’s energy market and understand how to work in it. We are Russia’s biggest energy company; we know how to work with the government on power supply contracts, we understand the importance of keeping to deadlines, terms and conditions and CAPEX limitations. We understand what the construction of energy facilities involves; we do such complex projects as NPP construction, and we believe we are able to build a wind farm.
After all, we have our own machine-building division – Atomernergomash, and our own division for manufacturing carbon fiber, which is necessary for manufacturing blades of wind installations, for instance. These two divisions allow us to reach a localization level of first 55% and then 65%, which is the Russian government’s stipulation for introducing higher energy tariffs.
Which is why, with these capabilities and capacities, we are entering this market. We have signed a licensing agreement with the Dutch Lagerwey on technology transfer fоr the production of wind power installations. We also signed an agreement with Gazprombank, which we chose as our financing partner and will finance up to 90% of the cost of our first three wind farms with a total capacity of 610 MWe. In total, we’ve accumulated near 1 GWe worth of wind power projects, having won a tender bid to 360 MWe in addition to the earlier 610 MWe. 1 GWe is a solid foundation for us to first implement these projects in Russia and then start offering the technology worldwide because we believe our wind power offer is going to be competitive not only in Russia but globally. In this sense, we are also working on establishing internally a green energy mix, if you will, between wind and nuclear, which we’ll definitely continue to invest in.
Q 2: What is delaying the implementation of the El Dabaa project and what is its current status?
Komarov: To be honest, I wouldn’t say that this is taking particularly long, given that the intergovernmental agreement on the construction of the El Dabaa NPP was only signed 18 months ago (November 2015), and it’s really not a very long time for preparing a detailed contract for a deal that is to be the biggest in the history of both Egypt and the Russian nuclear industry, because it involves a contract for the construction of a 4-unit NPP at El Dabaa, a contract for nuclear fuel supply over the 60 years of its operation, a maintenance contract for the 60 years of its operational lifetime, and contract for spent nuclear fuel (SNF) management – this is quite a large set of documents, and our Egyptian customers, for whom this is a first NPP project in their country, insist on having these four contracts signed simultaneously to make sure we’ll be able to provide everything necessary for the NPP’s entire service lifetime. I can tell you that the work on the NPP construction contract was completed last year; over the past six months we’ve been working on the other three contracts – the fuel contract, the O&M contract and the SNF management contract.
Q3: Any updates on the Jordan NPP project? What is its current status?
Komarov: As planned with our Jordanian colleagues, a so-called investment decision on the project is to be made before the end of 2017. When we were starting negotiations in 2015, there were a number of open-ended questions with no clear answers – from how is the electric power from the NPP to be sold, what is a country’s energy system and how do you work an NPP into it, to what on what terms the Jordanian and Russian party are each ready to invest. These are very serious questions that necessitate the involvement of a number of specialists that are to help answering them. We believe that within a year we’re going to have the answers to most of these questions. After that, we, together with our Jordanian partners, will be able to move on to discussing a concrete solution for what an NPP is for Jordan, how it can be built, in what alliance or partnership, who our partners could be, what equipment can be used, and so on.
Q 4: You will become chairman of the board of the World Nuclear Association next year. You also referred earlier to the Harmony initiative. What do you plan to contribute to the WNA and how do you see this initiative becoming a reality?
Komarov: This is rather a personal story because it is not connected with my work at Rosatom — rather, it's an honor that's been accorded to me by my colleagues at WNA, and I’m very grateful to them for this. The WNA is now at a very interesting juncture considering it is already a public organization with a long and successful track record. Previously, it used to be a sort of nuclear club where companies working across the nuclear spectrum, from uranium mining to NPP operators, could meet and exchange ideas, solutions and technologies, and discuss topical issues. I’m very thankful for the fact that, since Agneta Rising became the WNA’s Director General, the WNA has become a lot more open to the world. Now we really see our main objective not in merely formulating our forecast but we've actually made it happen as part of this Harmony project. We’d had long discussions about what makes figures that come not from external analysts and observers, with all due respect, but from people on the inside, and what is the future of nuclear power. After long internal discussions, we set those thoughts down in the Harmony project – another 1,000 GWe of nuclear capacity by 2050, and a 25% share in the global energy generation. Today we see our mission – and I’m very grateful to Agneta, who is the leader of this movement – as spreading around information to as many people as possible on nuclear technology and nuclear power as a reliable and absolutely green energy source that is safe and extremely useful to humanity, because we want this knowledge to stop being restricted to a select few.
Rosatom’s CEO Alexey Likhachev cited this case: Over the last few years, investment in wind and solar exceeded investment in nuclear tenfold. However, this is not due to one technology being good and the other being bad – if it were bad, no one would invest in it all, whether it’s 10 or 100 times as little. This means that we, as the nuclear community, are not doing enough to explain that what we bring to the world is safe and is necessary for humanity to develop, not just in terms of power but also knowledge, education, science, and non-power applications of our technology.
I believe that the key objective facing the WNA today – and I’m willing to contribute all I can in my current and hopefully future capacity – is to bring to the world more openly honest and truthful information about nuclear. We ourselves, as Rosatom, are trying to do this in as open and transparent a manner as we can, and we want the world nuclear community to do the same. All we need is to talk openly and transparently about what nuclear technologies are, what they are for, and what benefits they bring to people. I’m convinced that if we are active in this, and if the WNA acts as a voice for this work, we’ll be able to achieve phenomenal success. It might even turn out that our Harmony project, with its goal to build 1,000 GWe of nuclear generating capacities by 2050 is only modest ambition and that so much more can in fact be achieved.