A country's development of nuclear power is testament to its energy self-sufficiency. (Credit: Nordroden/Bigstock)
A country's development of nuclear power is testament to its energy self-sufficiency. (Credit: Nordroden/Bigstock) (via: bit.ly)

In July 2017, the French company EDF decided to shut down the reactors of the Fessenheim nuclear power plant (NPP) in Alsace. It is the oldest NPP in France, commissioned in 1978. The closure of the reactors was carried out due to planned repairs, but in general, the information activity around the NPP is interesting from the point of view of the anti-nuclear lobby that is active today in Europe. The appointment by President Macron of the ecologist-centric Energy Minister Nicolas Hulot should perhaps be considered in this context: the former eco-activist fully supports the closing of 17 nuclear reactors by 2025 (58 reactors are now operating in 19 nuclear power plants in France).

It is noteworthy that, at the same time, another major player in the energy market, Saudi Arabia, is actively developing a project to develop its own nuclear power. Apparently, the Saudis seriously consider the diversification of their energy system and are thinking about changing its model, which is fully justified because of the unpredictability in world oil markets. On 25 July 2017, the Saudi cabinet approved a project aimed at reducing the dependence of the country’s economy on oil through the development of the nuclear sector. According to the project, by 2040 it is planned to launch 12-18 reactors to cover domestic demand. It is also noteworthy that Russia considers itself to have a role in the implementation of this project, expecting to get a share in the Saudi market. Of course, the project cannot be ignored in a political way. First of all, there are no guarantees that the Saudis will use the atom exclusively for peaceful purposes, although they assure their readiness to coordinate during each step with the IAEA. And in this sense, both the neighbours of the kingdom and the international structures cannot ignore two important points: the close friendship of Riyadh with Pakistan, and the desire of the Saudis to deprive Iran of the status of the only nuclear power in the Persian Gulf.

These two events in July involuntarily lead to the idea of the need to classify the models of policy-making in the field of nuclear energy. I think that this will allow us to comprehend the processes taking place in the industry at a more systemic level.

Thus, in terms of the level of development of the nuclear power industry, states can conditionally be divided into three main groups:

  1. “nuclear protectionism”
  2. “nuclear liberalism”
  3. “nuclear discrimination”

In the first group, we are dealing with countries in which nuclear power is a priority, and for its development the state takes all the necessary legislative, political, financial, and economic measures. Protectionism is also manifested in the fact that the state does not allow private capital (especially foreign) into the nuclear sector, treating it as a zone of state strategic interests. Moreover, the state controls not only the operation of nuclear power plants and the supply of electricity, but also the production of the equipment for the operation of the stations. This is mainly due to security considerations. In the states of this group, special taxation is often applied to the industry, or taxes are not applied at all. Russia and China can be included in the group of nuclear protectionists’ countries. In these countries, not only the production of the necessary equipment, but also the process of NPP construction is carried out by companies with a predominant share of state capital.

The second, liberal group includes countries in which almost identical conditions are created for the development of all spheres of energy. The role of the state in the industry is limited only to the control function mainly in matters related to security: certification, monitoring, licensing, etc. The development of the industry depends on objective conditions, and the main actor here is private capital, which excludes the formation of a state monopoly. However, this does not at all mean that the state remains on the sidelines of nuclear energy. The only specificity is that within the framework of this model of development of nuclear energy the state is inferior to the private sector in terms of participation (including financial). The nuclear industry is open to foreign investment, which is often fixed at the legislative level. As for equipment, there is also competition between foreign and domestic suppliers.  This group includes, above all, the United States, as well as Canada, Finland, and others.

The third group includes countries that openly impede the development of the nuclear industry for a number of reasons. Most of those reasons are reduced to environmental ones. However, corporate interests of companies involved in hydrocarbon energy and, in fact, forming an international anti-nuclear lobby should not be excluded. The main feature of this group is not only the lack of state support, but also the creation of discriminatory conditions for the functioning of the industry. This is manifested in the additional taxation of companies operating nuclear power plants, the artificial creation of an unfavorable investment climate in the industry, the support of hydrocarbon or renewable energy, etc. This group includes countries such as Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, Taiwan, Austria, and others. It should be noted that not only countries, but also certain international political institutions, can be the ‘nuclear discrimination’ policy makers. On 6 July 2017, the European Parliament passed a resolution with a majority of votes calling on Turkey to abandon the construction of the Akkuyu NPP due to seismic safety. The project is carried out within the framework of the intergovernmental agreement between Russia and Turkey in 2010, wherein, 51 percent of  ‘Akkuyu Nuclear’ JSC belong to Russian companies. Although the resolution has a recommendatory character, it nevertheless reflects the mood of certain political elites of the EU, both in relation to Russian energy policy and to nuclear energy in general.

It should be taken into account that none of the presented models are absolute for a single country, and often the boundary between them is very vague, which is explained by the change in the economic and geo-economic situation. For example, China, with a predominantly protectionist model, is actively looking for foreign markets to supply Chinese-made equipment, while the US (during Trump’s presidency), a falling into the liberal category, currently does not hide its skepticism about the export of American nuclear (and energy in general) technologies. There are also countries that are actively developing nuclear power, applying the basic principles of both a protectionist and a liberal model. An example is India, which created favorable conditions for the implementation and further operation of its main nuclear project – Kudankulam NPP, in parallel with this, inviting foreign companies (‘Rosatom’ from Russia) to participate in the construction of the facility.

Thus, beginning in the mid-twentieth century, nuclear power is one of the key, and at the same time ambiguously evaluated, branches of world energy due to its direct influence on international relations and geopolitical processes. The essence of ‘atomic geopolitics’ can be briefly described in the following way: the presence of developing nuclear energy in a country testifies to its energy self-sufficiency and a high level of energy security, while its absence or gradual freezing is characteristic of countries with a low level of ‘energy sovereignty’. The economy of these countries depends on external supplies of energy resources. Along with this, the availability of nuclear energy also indicates the export capabilities of the country, while the export of energy resources or electricity is an important prerequisite for the geopolitical positioning of the state. Moreover, the presence of the nuclear industry increases the strategic importance of the country and creates additional security mechanisms in the cases of external threats.