- The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) established the world’s first nuclear power plant in Obninsk, Kaluga, in 1954. An outgrowth of the Soviet-era nuclear weapons program, Russia has a robust, if out-of-date nuclear energy program. Approximately one-sixth of the country’s electricity is generated by its 31 nuclear reactors. In an attempt to reduce its consumption of profitable natural gas, the figure is to be doubled by 2020. All civilian reactors are operated by the state-controlled firm Energoatom, which currently receives loans from the European Union (EU) to upgrade and monitor its facilities. The EU is wary of a repeat of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, which released nuclear radiation across the continent. A number of Russia’s current reactors are of the same type as the one at Chernobyl. Most of Russia’s reactors are located in the industrialized west of the country; however, the Kola and Bilibino plants are in the Far North. Russia also supports nuclear power programs in foreign countries, including Turkey and Ecuador. Such assistance is most controversial in Iran, where Russia’s nuclear agency has assisted in the development of the Bushehr reactor. Exporting nuclear fuel is an integral part of the country’s foreign trade. Russia also benefits economically as a processor of spent nuclear fuel, though this has generated intense criticism from local and international environmental groups. Failure to properly secure such materials is also a concern among foreign relations experts, who fear that the fuel can be converted into weapons of mass destruction by terrorists.
Historical Dictionary of the Russian Federation. Robert A. Saunders and Vlad Strukov. 2010.
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