As intergovernmental agreements are signed with Armenia and Ukraine, Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin has been briefed on the efforts to prevent wildfires reaching Russia's nuclear facilities, as well as progress on domestic and international projects.
A heat wave led to hundreds of wildfires burning across forested areas in western Russia, some threatening nuclear facilities. A state of emergency was declared in seven western regions and many additional deaths were reported from air pollution caused by the fires.
Sergey Kiriyenko, director general of Russian state nuclear energy company Rosatom, told Putin: "The most difficult situation was in Sarov ... Because it is surrounded by woods, fires attacked us three times. At first, it came from the west. Then it crept up from the south. The last blaze encroached from a nature reserve to the east." He added that more than 3000 men and 300 pieces of fire fighting equipment were used to control the fires at Sarov.
Kiriyenko recommended to Putin that awards should be given to the fire fighters at Sarov, "who performed real feats of distinction because fires were blazing along an uninterrupted line ten kilometres long. Even so, we beat them all off."
He told Putin that, as a precaution, Rosatom had stopped work at key nuclear sites and removed any nuclear and radioactive material, as well as any explosive materials from the sites. Kiriyenko said: "That is to say, we ensured that even if the flames break through the defensive perimeter, there would be no nuclear, radiation or environmental risk. Now our production is returning to normal."
Although the fires have been brought under control and Rosatom continues to resume its work schedule, Kiriyenko warned that a risk remains that, should winds pick up, any remaining embers and pockets of fires could be fanned. Therefore, he said, lookouts have been posted to monitor the situation and fire fighting equipment is being kept on hand.
He told Putin that, in preparation of possible future forest fires, the fire-breaks around nuclear facilities will be widened by 100 metres as the current fire-breaks were insufficient. In addition, special robots and monitoring devices will be used to "keep a close eye on our key facilities," Kiriyenko said. He noted that the use of thermal imagers on helicopters had proved useful in monitoring the wildfires. A new system - known as 'Lidar' - will be installed at some facilities, he said, which will "spot any hotbed of fire or change within 15 kilometres."
When asked about plans for new nuclear generating capacity, Kiriyenko told Putin that the second unit at the Rostov nuclear power plant, which started up in March, was on schedule and reached full generating capacity of 1000 MWe this week.
He also noted progress with a number of overseas projects. Next month, Russia plans to reach an intergovernmental agreement on the construction of Vietnam’s first nuclear power plant so that such an agreement can be signed in October when Putin visits the country.
In addition, he said, a "landmark event" had been reached with the imminent start up of the Russian-built Bushehr nuclear power plant in Iran. Kiriyenko informed Putin that, "This Saturday, 21 August, we are beginning the physical launch of the station." He said that inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) are currently unsealing containers holding Russian-supplied nuclear fuel for the reactor, which has been stored on the site for the past year. "What is important, Mr Putin, is that we have shown that Russia always fulfils its obligations," Kiriyenko said.
"Well, I congratulate you," replied Putin.
Meanwhile, an intergovernmental agreement was signed today between Russia and Armenia for cooperation in the construction of a new nuclear power plant in Armenia.
The agreement - signed in Yerevan by Kiriyenko and Arman Movsisyan, Armenia's minister of energy and natural minerals - stipulates that Russia will build a new nuclear power plant in Armenia based on VVER-1000 reactors and supply fuel for the plant. The exact size and configuration of the plant has yet to be decided.
The plant, to be built by AtomStroyExport, will be owned and operated by a joint Armenian-Russian company, ZAO Metsamorenergoatom.
Armenia's existing Metsamor nuclear power station originally hosted two reactors. Both were closed down after a severe earthquake in 1988 triggered concerns about their seismic vulnerability. One unit is now undergoing decommissioning, but the other restarted operations in 1995 and is earmarked for closure around 2016. Armenia relies on Metsamor for over 40% of its electricity and in November 2007 the USA also signalled its support for nuclear new build in the country, pledging a reported $2 million towards planning studies.
In June 2009, the Armenian government passed legislation providing for construction of up to 1200 MWe of new nuclear capacity from one or more reactors. Cost estimates were in the range of $4-$5 billion. Construction is slated to begin in 2011-12, with commissioning by 2017.
Ukraine buys into IUEC
In addition, the Ukrainian state-owned Nuclear Fuel concern has signed an agreement on 18 August with Rosatom to take a 10% stake in the International Uranium Enrichment Centre (IUEC) to be sited at the Angarsk Electrolysis Chemical Combine in Siberia.
The IUEC is a joint initiative of Russia and Kazakhstan to provide assured supplies of low-enriched uranium for power reactors to new nuclear power states and those with small nuclear programs, giving them equity in the project, but without allowing them access to the enrichment technology. The project has so far gained the participation of Armenia and Ukraine. However, currently Russia owns 90% of the IUEC, while Kazakhstan holds 10%.
The completion of Ukraine's purchase of a stake in the IUEC is expected to be in October, after the shares have been paid for.