A new energetic cold war. Choosing nuclear suppliers divides the world into two
The choice of nuclear technology is not only a question of energy, but also of strategic political decisions. History and the present day show that nuclear technology has become a fierce arena of rivalry between superpowers.
– Nuclear energy has always been a geopolitical project. Choosing a supplier means a huge transfer of funds for many decades, and the infrastructure created is the core of state security. Therefore, a specific choice means establishing close cooperation and, in a way, choosing a specific alliance. A new atomic geography is being created before our eyes – says Marcin Roszkowski, president of the Jagiellonian Institute.
New Cold War?
Politics in the atom has always been there. During the Cold War, nuclear technology was key not only for bombs. On the one hand, nuclear power plants ensured the availability of relatively cheap energy, on the other hand they strengthened the power of global champions who are the apple of Washington and Moscow’s eye.
Reactors strengthened the influence United States in the Far East. Japan and South Korea, belonging to the Western bloc, worked on the Westinghouse or GE Electric technology. And although over time they developed domestic companies that were successfully responsible for nuclear technology, the influence of the United States played a major role over the years.
It is enough to mention that the Korean KHNP offering technology to Poland is based on American achievements. Unofficially, it was even said that this could be a serious obstacle when choosing a Korean supplier. Ultimately, however, such fears were denied.
During the rivalry with the USSR, Washington was also active on the Old Continent. The Americans supplied nuclear facilities to almost the entire West. They built reactors, among others in Spain, they cooperated closely in the field of technology and exchange of raw materials with Great Britain, and under their license in Germany he built, among others German Siemens or the company PreussenElektra.
France without the US
The word “almost” in the first sentence, however, is not accidental. The big exception was France, which initially looked very wary of the plans of American domination on the continent. This explains not only the aversion to American nuclear technology, but also, inter alia, the delayed connection of the French occupation zone in Germany with the British-American territory (which resulted in the creation of Germany) or the ambivalent attitude of France towards NATO (in 1966 Paris withdrew from the alliance, it only fully returned in 2009).
The French, who stand by nuclear energy (56 reactors, which are responsible for 75% of the entire mix, are still operating there) diligently guard the independence of the sector to this day. Turbines for the vast majority of reactors were supplied by the domestic Alstom, while French companies such as Framamote, Bouygues and GTM were responsible for production.
On the other side, Moscow was close by, using its technology in nuclear projects in Hungary and Czechoslovakia. If there were breaches, it was extremely rare – as in the case of Romania. There, Canadians were responsible for the project of the Cernavodă power plant, who started working in the 1980s.
Tensions rise, return to Britain
The fact that nuclear technologies are a strong card in the deck of individual countries is also evidenced by recent moves. Noticeable not only on the Vistula River. When we are looking for the optimal way to establish cooperation with our closest alliesthere is also fierce competition around the world for nuclear spheres of influence.
A few weeks ago, the Financial Times reported that the UK is very close to a deal with France to build the Sizewell C nuclear reactor in Suffolk. The agreement stipulates that the shares in the project will be held by the United Kingdom and the French state-owned EdF. This means that the Chinese CGN, which in 2015 signed an agreement with London on strategic investments in three nuclear projects in the UK: Hinkley Point C, Sizewell C and Bradwell B.
– We need to be much more aware of the threats to Great Britain posed by Chinese investments and the Chinese government – said Lisa Nandy, Labor Minister of Foreign Affairs in the shadow cabinet a year earlier in an interview with Reuters.
Beijing is trying to strengthen its presence through nuclear technology. This is why his China National Nuclear Corporation was included in the US sanctions list in 2020. The White House’s justification was that the company was trying to steal American technology and use it for military purposes.
The Middle Kingdom, however, still has very ambitious plans. In 2022 alone, China has planned 10 new nuclear units, the highest annual number in more than a decade. Recently approved projects are estimated to cost $ 11.5 billion. A total of 150 nuclear reactors are to be built in the next 15 years. This is more than the world has built in 35 years. For Beijing, the nuclear power plant is to be the main pillar of climate neutrality declared for 2060.
An atomic alliance with Africa and… Orban
Power plants are also weapons of Vladimir Putin. The Moscow-based Rosatom company currently cooperates with over 15 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, including countries in North Africa. This even makes people talk about “nuclear neocolonialism.” In February 2020, Egypt awarded the Russians the country’s first nuclear contract worth $ 25 billion. for a power plant with a capacity of 4.8 GW. After the discovery of uranium deposits, Tanzania also wants to implement its project with the help of Russian loans. Uganda’s Ministry of Energy has concluded agreements with Chinese and Russian investors for the construction of two 1000 MW reactors by 2031.
Atom is something that also connected Putin with Viktor Orban. Fidesz has decided that Russia will build two reactors at the only power plant in the country, Paks, which is responsible for nearly half of the Hungarian energy mix. As Politico informed, despite the war in Ukraine, both sides are determined to continue the project. It is to cost $ 12.4 billion. According to the website, Russia will finance most of it with a loan of $ 10 billion, and the rest will be paid by Hungary.
The sanctions to date do not affect nuclear assets. And they are like that in other countries as well. – Russian nuclear programs in Europe are not limited only to Hungary. Investments were also made in Finland, Bulgaria and Slovakia. Now such agreements seem impossible – says Marcin Roszkowski. The Finnish Fennovoima has already announced that it will abandon the joint construction of reactors with Rosatom.
Blackmail with uranium
The EU prefers to remain silent, as it is largely up against the wall. It is also about raw materials. As the German portal recently enumerated RedaktionsNetzwerk Deutschland, as much as 20 percent. of uranium goes to Europe from Russia – no wonder then that the raw material is still not on the list of European sanctions.
Another 20 percent. it goes to the Old Continent from Kazakhstan, loyal to Russia, where it is mined by Rosatom and the Chinese. As “The Diplomat” describes, the Chinese CGN and Kzatomprom announced last year the construction of the Ulba Nuclear Fuel Plant. Under the agreement, CGN will receive a 49 percent stake for $ 435 million. It is to buy 49 percent. the production of the plant annually.
Reuters even estimates that China has already amassed 120,000. tonnes of uranium in the previous decade, enough to meet the demand for nuclear energy for the next 10 years.
– China’s aspirations are global, so naturally they must also apply to the nuclear power plant. It can be expected that also in this field there are still many activities that they will probably want to take – concludes Marcin Roszkowski.
Grzegorz Kowalczyk, journalist at Business Insider Polska.
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