“We want to power the world.” That’s what the head of Russia’s atomic energy corporation, also known as Rosatom, told the International Atomic Energy Agency in 2013. Vladimir Putin’s dream of bringing back the glory days of the Soviet Union is being realized through nuclear power, and the Obama administration played right along when it allowed the Russians to purchase 20 percent of U.S. uranium in the 2010 Uranium One deal.
Russia’s nuclear-power industry has been growing at an astronomical rate over the past decade, increasing foreign contracts by 60 percent in just two years and making plans to triple its global sales by 2030. It has more than 400 companies operating in the nuclear fuel cycle, power generation, and research and development sectors. Rosatom has more nuclear reactors under simultaneous construction than any other company in the world (nine in Russia and 29 overseas) and is second in the most uranium reserves (and number three in annual uranium extraction). It is building, planning, or negotiating to build reactors in Iran, Turkey, Belarus, Bangladesh, Argentina, India, Vietnam, China, Ukraine, Finland, Hungary, Jordan, Egypt, and the United Kingdom.
So Much for Sanctions
Rosatom’s deputy director general recently made a work visit to Iran to discuss more construction projects in accordance with Russian design. While there, he met with the Iranian vice president and the head of the Organization for Atomic Energy in Iran. According to reports, Rosatom plans to triple Iran’s nuclear power production—all for “peaceful use,” of course.
The Russian company wants to expand in the United States as well, planning to sign new contracts with U.S. energy companies. The United States already trails Russia in uranium enrichment technology, and about 40 percent of U.S. nuclear plants rely on recycled Russian uranium.
Chief Executive Officer Sergey Kirienko’s goal for Russia to power the world is well underway, and he claims sanctions aren’t stopping them. Rosatom’s foreign orders for its reactor technology and related services total more than $100 billion, and the U.S. and European Union–imposed sanctions have had no direct impact on the company, he says.
A Threat to U.S. Security
Rosatom isn’t just a private company, reaping the reward of good old-fashioned capitalism. Rosatom is a Russian state agency born in the days of the Soviet Union and overseen by the president of the Russian Federation. Besides the CEO being a former prime minister, the supervisory board for Rosatom consists of the Russian minister of energy, security officials within the Russian government, and personal advisors to Putin.
This is why the U.S. Committee on Foreign Investment’s decision to allow 20 percent of U.S. uranium to be sold to the Russians in the Uranium One deal and then to give it a pass when Rosatom consolidated 100 percent of the company is unconscionable. The issue is bigger than the financial wheeling and dealing of Bill and Hillary Clinton. National security is at stake.
That a committee made up of members of President Obama’s cabinet, including Eric Holder and Timothy Geithner, would approve of such a deal is troubling, to say the least, especially considering that Russia can’t be trusted. It has a long history of arms-control violations, it regards the United States and NATO as its principal adversaries, has violated nonproliferation agreements by providing ballistic missile technology to Iran and North Korea, is still building a nuclear arsenal, has ties to terrorist organizations, uses natural gas as a political weapon, and is an authoritarian regime.
GOP Congressmen Outline the Dangers
While committee members who should have been more responsible might be claiming they didn’t have any significant knowledge of the deal, lax bureaucratic processes are no excuse. Plus, while head of the U.S. Treasury, Geithner received a letter from four GOP congressmen warning him of the national-security dangers of the uranium mine sale.
The letter warned that Rosatom’s shady activities should raise “very serious concerns for United States national security interests.” The company has shown “little if any inclination to effectively address the widespread and continuing corruption within Russia, particularly its energy sector.”
Despite criticism by environmental and nonproliferation experts, Rosatom has launched a program to build and sell floating nuclear power plants to countries around the world, with little demonstrated intent or capability to protect those floating reactors from attack or theft of nuclear materials or from accidents that could have devastating and widespread impact. With regard to proliferation, some observers are concerned over the possibility that, by operating such a floating reactor far from its soil, a host nation might be able to bypass the proliferation guidelines of the Nuclear Suppliers Group and the International Atomic Energy Agency.
It is our understanding that the US Department of State itself has this year warned that the expansion of Russia in the area of nuclear energy could involve the appearance of new danger zones in the world.
Further, in a 2007 report on nuclear nonproliferation, the General Accounting Office noted that despite the US Department of Energy’s provision of access by Russian officials to sensitive nuclear sites in the United States, Rosatom ‘denied [GAO’s] request for access to facilities…[and] denied DOE proposals for upgrading the sites including proposals with less intrusive access requirements, and informed DOE that it is not interested in pursuing [Materials Protection, Control and Accounting] MPC&A cooperation at these sites.’
The letter went into great detail about the potential threat to U.S. security posed by a transaction involving Rosatom. The Obama administration ignored the warning and approved the deal. Hillary Clinton was just one vote among many, and when it comes to national security, the buck stops with the president.
So Much for the End of Communism
Rosatom is a secretive, unsafe, and purportedly corrupt regime with blurred lines between the military nuclear program and the civilian sector. The company has a unique legal status with the government and is given special protections. It also has a high degree of autonomy. Russian authorities, including local government officials, can’t interfere with Rosatom’s activities, except in special legal circumstances. In addition, the company doesn’t have to make its activities public, and the CEO has the authority to classify information as state secrets.
While nuclear energy has been in decline globally, Russia is pushing for expansion. Some nations are increasing nuclear energy production, particularly China, Japan, South Korea, India, and, of course, Russia. As part of its long-term objectives, Rosatom wants to help states without a nuclear infrastructure develop atomic energy. To do this, it has created a program called “Build-Own-Operate” or BOO. Under this scheme, Rosatom provides countries with everything they need, from financing, to building and operating reactors and disposing nuclear waste. Rosatom will also supply the fuel needed to power the reactors.
The result: nations throughout the world will become dependent on Russia for their energy. The more nations that are reliant on Russia, the more powerful Russia will be. In addition, if somehow Russia gets a license from the U.S. government to export uranium from Wyoming (something that’s been promised won’t happen), the United States could end up fueling the nuclear industries—civilian or military—of its enemies.
The Russian dream of dominance is becoming reality. What will the United States do to stop it—or at least compete with it? As it stands now, not only are we failing to compete in energy production or make significant strides in becoming energy independent, but we are actively helping our long-time adversary achieve its goals without a thought to national security.