|Russia and the CIS News Digest
Russia Proposes Nuclear Power for All
At the Jan. 25 Eurasian Economic Community summit in St. Petersburg, Russian President Vladimir Putin presented a Statement on the Peaceful Use of Nuclear Energy as part of "security as a multidimensional concept."
"Based on this position," Putin said, "Russia is firmly committed to expanding cooperation on global energy security within the framework of the Eurasian Economic Community. One of the priorities in this area is to develop cooperation in the peaceful use of nuclear energy.
"Cooperation in this field opens up real new opportunities for all of us. Taking into consideration the agreements with the President of Kazakhstan, concrete plans are being drawn up for expanding cooperation between the nuclear energy sector enterprises in our countries. Uzbekistan's accession to the Eurasian Economic Community creates additional new opportunities for building a nuclear-fuel component that will serve as a reliable element in the energy supply policy for the long term.
"It is particularly important to develop our countries' full potential in this area today, at a time when demand for quality energy supplies is growing constantly. Dwindling fossil fuel reserves and environmental issues have become questions of crucial importance on the international agenda. We need to create the prototype of a global infrastructure that will give all interested countries equal access to nuclear energy, while stressing reliable compliance with the requirements of the non-proliferation regime, of course.
"The creation of a system of international centers providing nuclear-fuel-cycle services, including enrichment, on a non-discriminatory basis and under the control of the IAEA, could become a key element in developing this new infrastructure. Russia has already made just such a proposal and is prepared to establish an international center of this kind on its territory.
"Innovative new technologies will undoubtedly be required in this respect to create new generation reactors and their fuel cycles. These kinds of issues can be resolved only through broad-based international cooperation. This is the approach that we will present to the G8 countries during our Presidency, and to all our partners in the peaceful use of nuclear energy."
Russian Proposal Flanks Iran Crisis
The new Russian nuclear energy initiative is, in part, a response to the Bush Administration's nonproliferation proposal, which would centralize uranium enrichment services in an "international" body, to prevent other countries from developing the technology. Such a facility under U.S. auspices would not open nuclear power to all, but could withhold nuclear fuel from countries the U.S. dictates should not have it, such as Iran. The head of Russia's Federal Atomic Energy Agency (Rosatom), Sergei Kiriyenko, stated that if the system Russia is proposing existed, there would be no problem with Iran.
As Ali Larijani, head of Iran's Supreme National Security Council and chief nuclear negotiator, arrived for talks in Moscow Jan. 24, an Itar-Tass wire raised the possibility of Chinese participation in the joint Russian-Iranian uranium enrichment plant, proposed by Russia. The report indicated that Moscow has been sounding Tehran out on this option, and added that Iranian Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki "has not ruled out China's participation in a Russian-Iranian uranium enrichment venture on Russian territory."
Russia Steps Up Nuclear Energy Plans
President Putin met Jan. 20 with newly appointed Rosatom head Sergei Kiriyenko, who presented a perspective of building 40 new nuclear power plants in Russia in the next 30 years, plus another 40 to 60 plants overseas. Russia currently has 31 power-producing nuclear reactors. On Jan. 26, Putin ordered Kiriyenko to go ahead with the project of replacing the reactors at the Leningrad Nuclear Power Plant, which were commissioned in the 1970s.
Visiting Kiev on Jan. 21, Kiriyeko met with Ukrainian Fuel and Energy Minister Ivan Plachkov and the Chairman of of the State Committee for Nuclear Regulation of Ukraine, Olena Mykolaychuuk, on the development of the nuclear energy sector for the next ten years, as well as progress and plans for creating new projects for nuclear power plants.
On Jan. 25, another Russian official outlined an ambitious plan to obtain fuel for the next type of nuclear power: thermonuclear fusion. Nikolai Sevastyanov, head of the Energiya Russian Space Company, announced that Russia intends to take the initiative in a pioneering space operation. "We are planning to create a permanent base on the moon and use it to provide supplies of a rare helium-3 isotope," 1TV reported, adding, "The station on the moon should be operational by as early as 2015, and five years later it should start mining this rare isotope. According to experts, there are at least 1 million tons of helium-3 on the moon, which is enough to meet world energy needs for 1,000 years. The Earth has only several hundred tons of this isotope. Helium-3 is almost the ideal fuel. It is very stable, does not explode and allows the creation of the most environmentally friendly generators."
Uzbekistan Joins Eurasian Economic Community
The St. Petersburg summit of the Eurasian Economic Community (EurAsEC) organization was attended by the Presidents of Russia, Belarus, Kazakstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan, who founded the organization in October 2000, and by President Islam Karimov of the new EurAsEC member, Uzbekistan. In the press conference after these talks, President Putin noted that the Eurasian Bank, a project launched two years ago by President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakstan, is now going operational with $1.5 billion of nominal capital. "The Bank's sphere of activity is any viable economic project in the EurAsEC," said Putin. He also noted that Russia's Gazprom has emerged as the main developer of three new natural gas fields in Uzbekistan, where Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller had visited the previous week.
Putin Opens New Coal Export Terminal
Amid his other meetings in the St. Petersburg area, President Putin on Jan. 24 attended the opening ceremony of the second coal export terminal at the Port of Ust-Luga on the Gulf of Finland. Able to handle 4 million tons of coal per year, it quintuples the capacity of this port to ship coal. The promoters of Ust-Luga, which was designed to replace the ports in the Baltic countries that had been used in the Soviet period, plan for it to handle up to 35 million tons of cargo, including oil products, fertilizer, etc., by 2010, and then continue to expand. Putin called it "a project of Europe-wide importance."
A major investor in Ust-Luga is the state-owned corporation RAO Russian Railroads (formerly the railways ministry), whose chairman of the board, Vladimir Yakunin, accompanied Putin. Yakunin explained how coal from Siberia's Kuzbass area will be shipped by rail to Ust-Luga for export, an operation that has necessitated rail upgrades. As of 2003, Russian coal production was 276 million tons, of which 60 million tons was exported (10 million tons to CIS destinations). Kuzbass is the largest producing area, but has lacked infrastructure for reaching export markets, which current Russian policy assumes is key to making coal production profitable.
Explosions Cut Russian Gas to Transcaucasus
Two explosions, occurring within 20 minutes of each other in the early hours of Jan. 22, on a stretch of the Mozdok-Tbilisi gas pipeline through North Ossetia, cut off all Russian natural gas supplies to Armenia and Georgia. Officials called the incident an act of sabotage, though days later a specific cause had not been announced. Georgian officials blamed Russia for orchestrating an energy crisis at Georgia's expense. Repairs went on throughout the week, with delays due to the location of the break in a mountainous area that is accessible only by the famous Ossetian Military Highway and has been experiencing deep cold and high winds.
Four days later, Georgia was hit with the coldest weather in a century, and the worst storm in 35 years. It downed power lines, causing more electrical accidents in the capital city of Tbilisi than happened all last year. A major high-tension power transmission line went down. The capital city of Tbilisi and most of eastern Georgia lost all electric power. Tbilisi residents lined up all day in heavy snow to get firewood and kerosene for the stoves most people have inside their apartments. President Michael Saakashvili left the Davos World Economic Forum on Jan. 26, to rush back to Tbilisi, where he continued stormily denouncing Russia, for "dubious operations" that he claims led to the gas line explosions. Armenian officials announced natural gas rationing there, too, since the usual supplies through Georgia have been cut off. Gas rerouted through Azerbaijan has not made up for the gas not arriving directly from Russia.
Finalization of the Russia-Ukraine gas settlement reached in early January was delayed at the end of the month, as Ukraine was not ready with the paperwork. Meanwhile, Gazprom is accusing Ukraine of diverting more gas than they are supposed to, which Kievciting the cold weatherdoes not deny.
Russian Population Shrinks Again
Population statistics, released Jan. 24, showed that the Russian Federation lost 680,000 people (net) in 2005. This is seen as an improvement over the previous year, when the decline was 900,000. The population of Russia has now fallen to 142.8 million.