Since Russia began its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the West has imposed restrictions on many of its energy exports, with nuclear power being a significant exception.
First into nuclear terrorism
Since Russian soldiers gained control of Europe’s largest nuclear facility in Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia region a year ago, Rosatom, Russia’s state-owned nuclear energy monopoly, has been in charge. Rosatom develops atomic power plants worldwide, exports uranium, and enriches it.
Russian soldiers are allegedly utilizing the facility as a military base and a cover for strikes, knowing that Ukraine can’t retaliate without running the risk of damaging one of the reactors at the plant. Kyiv has accused Russia of doing this. Russia has also been held responsible by Ukraine for explosions at the site, most recently in late 2017.
In addition to being concerned about the militarization of the facility, Vladimir Kotin, interim head of Ukraine’s Energoatom, is also concerned about a dramatic drop in the number of skilled employees working there. According to the plant’s Russian press office, fresh hires are being sought out, “which ensures [its] safe functioning.”
Because Russia owns the area, Energoatom “cannot leap in and genuinely mitigate any effects or ameliorate any disaster,” according to Kotin.
Not enough sanctions for the moment
Despite what Kotin described as the rising risk of a mistake or breach of safety protocols at the Zaporizhzhia plant and repeated calls by Kyiv for sanctions on Rosatom, the Russian company remains unscathed mainly. However, the United Kingdom sanctioned its top management and several subsidiaries last month, and Finland terminated a power plant deal last May.
According to experts, Rosatom is still protected because of its crucial role in nuclear power globally and the difficulty of replacing it.
USA and the EU still needs it
Rosatom is a significant exporter of nuclear fuel to begin with. In 2021, 14% of the uranium used to fuel the nation’s atomic reactors came from the Russian nuclear monopoly. Over a fifth of the nuclear fuel used by European utilities was purchased from Rosatom. Dorfman claims the European Union hasn’t advanced much since weaning itself off Russia’s nuclear sector.
Rosatom also offers enrichment services, making up 28% of what the US needed in 2021. It has constructed multiple nuclear power stations worldwide, and in some cases, it paid for them. According to the Center for Global Energy Policy at Columbia University, by the end of 2021, 15 more nuclear power stations will be constructed outside of Russia by Rosatom, making up nearly one in five of all nuclear power plants worldwide.
Who lobbies this dependance?
Such reliance may take precedence over other factors. For instance, Hungary has argued against penalties against Rosatom, the loudest in the European Union. It also has a long-term finance agreement with Rosatom to construct a nuclear power station. It is one of only a few EU nations that gets more than 40% of its electricity from atomic energy.
According to experts, locating replacement suppliers for Rosatom in the global nuclear business would take years.
Over the weekend, Herman Halushchenko, Ukraine’s energy minister, stated that diplomatic efforts to return control of the facility to Ukraine had been halted.
Russia has repeatedly claimed that Ukraine had shelled the Zaporizhzhia plant, but the company’s press office, Rosatom, disputed this in an email to CNN.