Mr. Alexander YU. RUMYANTSEV Minister of the Russian Federation for Atomic Energy

Interview with
Mr. Alexander YU. RUMYANTSEV

Minister of the Russian Federation for Atomic Energy

Moscow, April 29th 2002

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Who is who?
The restructuring of the Ministry of Atomic Energy, from approximately 3000 to 600 employees, was not an easy task. Would you say that this has made your Ministry a much more efficient organisation?

The answer to this question is always twofold. On one hand, the reduction of headquarters always means that some of the functions will pass over to certain enterprises, entities or Joint-Stock companies, which represents a positive trend.

On the other hand, the nuclear industry is a highly technological industry which also includes sensitive nuclear production. In the context of rapidly changing Russian legislation, the atomic energy sector is adjusting to changes and it is a big job for us to effectively manage major changes in the industry from our headquarters.

Therefore, on the whole I favour the reduction of the staff, but this process should be accompanied by a change in legislation where the enterprises attain enough freedom to develop their business together with scientific research and development.

The Ministry intends to build 25 new nuclear plants over the next 20 years. Could you tell us about your development plans, and your strategy to attract international investors to finance these projects?

Amendments to the atomic energy law have been adopted, which allows us to import spent fuel into the Russian Federation. Further the amendments were scrutinised by the Federal Council and confirmed by President Putin, and the essence of these changes is that we have obtained support from Russian producers to supply fresh fuel to countries worldwide. The contradiction in the original law consisted in the fact that, while supplying fresh fuel, we were not allowed to import fuel back when it was spent. Thus we would infringe our international commitments on non-proliferation of separable substances. Yet in the spent fuel there is a percentage (however small it might be) of nuclear plutonium, which can be used for military purposes. Through adoption of these amendments the contradiction was eliminated and thus it has enabled us to work in the international market with existing agreements that permitted both the exporting and importing of spent fuel.

In terms of our program for atomic sector development last year, we launched a Nuclear Power Plant in Volgodonsk. This year, after the reconstruction, we have started the operation of a block of Nuclear Power Plants in Kursk. Next year, we will start operating yet another block of Nuclear Power Plants in Kalinin, and in the coming years we intend to start two new blocks every three years.

Meanwhile, I understand that there are plans to extend the service life of the country's existing nuclear power plants. How are you using new technologies and other strategies to increase capacity, while ensuring that safety is maintained?

A vivid example is the Nuclear Power Plant in Novovoronezh. Last year, after two years of experiments, we increased the service life of the plant by up to 15 more years. All necessary material-based tests of equipment parts were conducted. The operation system of the nuclear reactor was fully reconstructed, both in terms of electronic and mechanical aspects of the reactor, and the personnel was taught on special training equipment to operate the plant. We have been licensed for the first years of operation and in principle these experiments allow for prolongation of the plant's service life by 15 years.

One of your most important international projects is the "Megatonnes to Megawatts" project, (for the transfer of uranium), which represents major investments between Russia and the US. Could you tell us about the current status of the project?

This project is beginning its new phase. The provisions of this project are in the final stage of discussion by the governments of the U.S. and Russia. I believe that in May 2002 the project will be signed for the coming 10 years by both governments.

The project is really impressive. Practically all my life I have been working in pure research and in pure science the craziest ideas turn out to be most successful. Initially, when the project was announced, no one believed that it would be successful. Besides the political constraints it is a very complicated in terms of the technology. You have to remove the warheads from their location; then, the next step is extracting weapon uranium charges; then you have to transform it into gas condition - uranium hexafluoride (UF6) - and you need to lower enrichment from the military level to the nuclear plant level. Then you have to fill in special transportation containers, to transport them from our plants to corresponding warehouses in the USA, and the American party returns the natural condition to uranium. The product of this cooperation is separation work. Then in the USA uranium is extracted from the uranium hexafluoride. And out of this uranium the fuel elements for the nuclear power plants are produced. Although transportation is very costly and complicated (using railway and shipping transport systems), it is affordable to both governments. The first decade of the project is over and for the next ten years we are signing up a similar program.

Thus the military uranium of Russian origin will be operated in the nuclear power plants of the USA. This is an example of fruitful collaboration between the U.S. and Russia in a sensitive area like nuclear power.

In 1999, Russia's 29 existing nuclear reactors produced 14% of the nation's energy needs last year. So how important will atomic energy be to make up for possible shortages in energy supplies, and what do you think the percentage of atomic energy will be in the next 10 years?

We plan increase our share up to 20% by 2010. But even today that we account for 15% of power volume in Russia, and in the European part of Russia the figure goes as up high as 30 %, since it is a most industrially developed region with many industrial consumers.

I understand that you have announced plans to market nuclear power plants to countries in Asia and Africa, and the Ministry has already sold plants to Finland, India, China and Iran... Is this part of a new international business strategy?

In Finland, a nuclear power plant was built around 20 years ago, and up to now the plant has been working safely; so, we are participating in a bid for the construction of another nuclear power plant. We really are building two blocks in China, we have built a plant in India, and in about 2 years a block of atomic plants will be put into operation in Iran. There are also plans to extend existing nuclear power plants in the countries of Eastern Europe, such as Czech Republic, Bulgaria and Hungary…

An attempt was made in 1991 to incorporate all these activities into a single, State-owned nuclear corporation, "Atomprom". This proposal has recently been re-activated. Will it happen?

Globalisation processes and companies of scale are always useful to succeed in the international market.

As a first step we have united all the Atomic plants under one generating company. Now the ten Russian nuclear power plants are under JSC RosEnergoAtom. As for further consolidation of our commercial program, this represents a two-sided coin: Creating a huge company in the form of a JSC is undoubtedly useful for raising investments and competitive development, yet on the other hand we always have to bear in mind that our military nuclear complex has to be in state-of-the-art technological condition.

So, a priority challenge is to find the right combination to satisfy our commercial aspirations while maintaining a safe defence system.

You have come from a scientific background, yet now you are dealing with business circles and complex political issues. How have you managed to adapt to the rigours of these challenges, and do you think your scientific background helps to support your working style?

From the inside I cannot see whether I have adapted or not - that is to be seen from the outside. As for my background it really helps a great deal, because when you are a scientist you always have to learn. And today I continue learning - doing business, communicating with businessmen, politicians, so this is a new stage of my scientific career. Besides, I am not solely from the scientific sphere, since I was the director of the Kurchatov Institute for seven years, so in fact I already had some administrative experience when I took office.

What would be your final message to our readers, bearing in mind that they are potential investors?

Our nuclear power complex shows sustained development in recent years. We have all necessary industrial facilities and high-qualified personnel, and a unified company has already been created for the generation of energy and heat.

We therefore encourage investments from all business circles. It is a promising sector, and we plan to construct nuclear power plants both in the domestic and in the international markets by covering our costs, paying down our credits and gaining profitability.


By the act of Russian President Vladimir Putin, on March 28, 2001, Mr. Alexander Rumyantsev was appointed the Minister of Atomic Energy of the Russian Federation.

A. Rumyantsev was born on July 26, 1945 in the town of Kushka (Turkmenskaya Socialist Republic).

From 1963 to 1969 he studied in Moscow Institute of Engineering and Physics and specialised in the physics of solids.

From 1969 to 2001 he worked in the Russian Scientific Centre "Kurchatovsky Institute" (the Insitute of Atomic Energy named after I.V. Kurchatov.) From 1994 worked as the Director of the Centre up to the date of his appointment as Minister of Atomic Energy of the Russian Federation.

Rumyantsev is Doctor of Science in Physics and Mathematics (1988), Professor (1996)
In 1986 he received the State Award of the USSR.

In 1997 he was elected a correspondent member of the Russian Academy of Sciences (specialisation - physics), in 2000 - elected a member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, the department of General Physics and Astronomy (specialisation - physics).

A. Rumyantsev is a prominent research scientist. The subject of his major work is the physics of solids through methods of neutron scattering. His works on phonon spectrums of metals, alloys and compounds by using the method of neutron scattering brought him fame worldwide. On this subject over 100 scientific articles have been published in Russian and foreign journals. In the recent years the major subject of Rumyantsev´s research work is the behaviour of high temperature superconductors gridwork.

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