Nuclear Power in Russia

Alex Stephanus
June 9, 2016

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2016

Fig. 1: The nuclear power plant museum in Obninsk (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Russia and nuclear energy have a long and storied relationship. The nuclear plant at Obninsk, even though it was only 5 MW in capacity, was the first nuclear power plant in the world to be linked with the commercial power grid. [1] The museum of nuclear power which is currently there is shown in Fig. 1. However, Russia's relationship with nuclear power has not been without significant setbacks. The 1986 Chernobyl accident, while not occurring in current Russian borders, did still occur within the USSR. Chernobyl is arguably the nuclear accident which is most vividly engraved in the world's memory, and there is still some controversy today about Russian nuclear power in light of the Chernobyl incident. Currently, Russia meets significant amount of its energy needs with nuclear energy, and is looking to expand the country's nuclear power industry in the near future. As of 2014, they were leading the world in construction of nuclear power plants. [2]

Aging Reactors

One controversy unique to the Russian nuclear power industry is based specifically on the design of several reactors currently in use. At the time of this writing, Russia has 11 operational nuclear reactors of the RBMK type, the same type of reactor which underwent catastrophic meltdown in Chernobyl in 1986. [3] These graphite-moderated reactors have been deemed unsafe by some critics, particularly due to the fact that some of them had been originally scheduled for shutdown. However, lifetime extensions were made for several of these reactors, so they will remain in operation for another 15 or 20 years past their scheduled shutdown dates. [3] The argument is that these lifetime extensions are inherently unsafe, and that retrofitting these reactors and keeping them operational is dangerous and could lead to another accident. [3]

Forays into Fusion

Russia is currently a member of ITER, a cooperative nuclear fusion research effort. As one of the six non-host member entities of ITER, Russia is contributing nine percent of ITER's costs. [4] ITER was formed in 2007, and the Tokamak complex they are currently building in France is projected to have started Deuterium-Tritium fusion in 2027. [5] All in all, Russia is investing heavily in the future of nuclear energy, both by building new nuclear power plants and having a stake in research and development for the future of nuclear energy.

© Alex Stephanus. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] P. R. Josephson, Red Atom: Russia's Nuclear Power Program from Stalin to Today (W. H. Freeman, 1999).

[2] J. E. David, "The Real Front in US-Russia 'Cold War'? Nuclear Power," CNBC, 23 Mar 14.

[3] J. Haverkamp et al., "Lifetime Extension of Egeing Nuclear Power Plants: Entering a New Era of Risk," Greenpeace, March 2014.

[4] J. Amos, " Key Component Contract for Iter Fusion Reactor," BBC News, 14 Oct 10.

[5] W. W. Gibbs, "Triple-Threat Method Sparks Hope For Fusion," Nature 505, 9 (2014).