Russia Takes Lead in Nuclear Power Exports

Image: Russia Takes Lead in Nuclear Power Exports The Russian-built Bushehr nuclear facility in Iran.

Monday, 24 Mar 2014 06:30 AM

By Elliot Jager

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Russia and China are building most of the world's nuclear reactors, providing financing to meet demand and leveraging energy to extend their political influence, according to CNBC.

The United States is taking a back seat, building just 7 percent of plants globally compared to Russia's 37 percent and China's 28 percent. There are 71 nuclear plants under construction around the world with 160 more "in licensing and advanced planning stages," CNBC said, citing the Nuclear Energy Institute.

After the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear meltdown, the United States and its partners shared their safety know-how with Moscow, according to Reuters.

Russia has the advantage that it can build in countries the United States avoids out of concern for nuclear proliferation, such as Iran, and Moscow is less concerned about nuclear safety in general. Washington shares and sells nuclear know-how to a restricted roster of 21 countries, according to CNBC.

Moscow energetically seeks opportunities in the $500 billion nuclear exports market with the Kremlin and Russia's nuclear sector working in tandem.

In addition to supplying Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's regime in Iran, Russia is building 18 other plants abroad, including in Venezuela for President Nicolás Maduro, who had been Hugo Chávez's foreign minister, and in Turkey for Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. To build in the former Soviet satellite of Hungary, Russia is prepared to offer $14 billion in financing, according to Bloomberg.

Moscow is also expanding its domestic nuclear energy sector with nine reactors under construction, Reuters reported.

Critics of U.S. reticence to challenge Russia, and other nuclear exporting countries such as China, say that Washington is losing business and influence. Barbara Judge, an American-British businesswoman and former chairwoman of the U.K. Atomic Energy Authority, told CNBC that Russia was using nuclear building and financing as a way to wield geopolitical and economic influence.

A recent Center for Strategic and International Studies report said it was imperative for the United States to compete with China, Russia, and India in the sale of nuclear technology.

"U.S. firms are currently at a competitive disadvantage in global markets, due to restrictive and otherwise unsupportive export policies," the report stated.

If the United States isn't a commercial player in the nuclear export trade, its "ability to influence nonproliferation policies and nuclear safety behaviors worldwide is bound to diminish," the report concluded.

Advocates of nuclear commerce say 5,000 jobs could be created for every $1 billion of nuclear technology sold and that companies such as Westinghouse and General Electric are positioned to get deeper into the nuclear trade, CNBC reported.

Opponents say that the danger is not worth the profit.

"Once you export this technology and don't have direct control over it, no matter how safe you say it is, it can come back to bite you," Mark Cooper, a senior fellow of economic analysis at the Institute for Energy and Environment at Vermont Law School, told CNBC.

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