The potential bankruptcy of a U.S. nuclear energy company could give Vladimir Putin “nuclear domination” over the industry as Russian-backed companies gobble the global market, according to pro-nuclear environmentalists.
“Moscow views nuclear reactor sales as a vehicle for expanding and enhancing its influence,” environmentalists Nick Gallucci and Michael Shellenberger wrote Thursday. “Russia’s state-owned nuclear corporation, Rosatom, is currently offering to not only build but fully finance and operate nuclear plants abroad, a deal that many cash-strapped and electricity-poor nations are finding hard to refuse.”
U.S.-based Westinghouse filed for bankruptcy protection in March, triggering a slew of cancelled American reactors. This has significantly undermined U.S. and Western national security interests, as well as global climate mitigation efforts, according to Gallucci and Shellenberger.
They say U.S. nuclear companies need new management teams capable of building new reactors that can compete with the low-interest financing offered by Russia’s government-backed companies.
Russia is currently building new reactors in Bangladesh, Belarus, China, India, and Slovakia, and has plans to construct more in Armenia, Egypt, Finland, Hungary, Iran, and Turkey. These nuclear reactors create a decades-long economic and political relationship between Russia and these countries, which could greatly boost Putin’s influence there.
The U.S. is losing global influence to Russia and China by allowing its nuclear power industry to stagnate, according to research published in May by the Global Nexus Initiative. Nuclear power is a significant element of a country’s geopolitical influence. Technological exchanges and long timeframes involved in building and operating a nuclear plant create diplomatic relationships between nations, and those ties are threatened as the U.S. nuclear industry continues to decline.
Russia’s nuclear power program is also on the rise. Some of the world’s first floating nuclear power plants are being developed in Russia, and the country is pioneering fast reactors, according to experts.
Russia plans to complete one new large reactor per year until at least 2028. Nuclear technology and the services required to run it are a “major Russian policy and economic objective,” according to the World Nuclear Association.
Vital safety, security, and nonproliferation standards will erode if the U.S. allows Russia and China to become the world’s premier nuclear powers.
Approving new nuclear reactors takes as little as two years in China and Russia, but getting regulatory approval in the U.S. to build a new reactor can take up to 25 years. It took 43 years to build America’s newest nuclear reactor, which was racked by scandals, red tape and environmental concerns.
Worldwide, nuclear capacity is expected to grow 60 percent by 2040, according to the International Energy Agency. American capacity will likely only grow by 16 percent over the same time period.
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