Kommersant (Russia’s Daily Online) published an article titled Russia’s Neighbors Splitting Gas Into Atoms on September 27, 2006. It tells the story of ambitious nuclear power plans in the Ukraine and in Belarus.
Both countries see nuclear power as a way to reduce their natural gas consumption and their dependence on Russian suppliers. Last winter, Russia made it clear to these countries that the gas that they had been receiving (at a highly discounted rate) would not always be available. In part, that was a commercial dispute – the CIS countries, for historical reasons, were able to buy gas for 50 to 100 dollars per thousand cubic meters while other European customers paid 2-4 times as much. Russia, after unsuccessful negotiations for a price increase simply shut off the supply for a brief period until the customer realized that they had no real choice in the matter.
Since that time, decision makers have begun making plans that will give them more choice and more control. Once a nuclear plant is operating, there is little chance for a fuel supplier to control the operation – fuel loads normally last for 18-24 months and can often be stretched a bit. It is difficult to put the pressure on when there is no immediate risk of plant shutdown – as is the case for a gas fired plant if the fuel supply is cut off. It is also a relatively simple matter to store extra nuclear fuel inventory on reactor plant sites – the investment decision allows for a balance between risk and cost.
It is also worth pointing out that Ukraine and Belarus are the two countries that were most affected by the Chernobyl accident a bit more than 20 years ago. Apparently, the people that are taking a fresh look at nuclear power have evaluated the relative risks of energy dependence and the potential for accidents (with more reliable and modern nuclear plants) and have chosen a future path that includes a lot of nuclear energy.