"Rosatom Is Putin’s Geopolitical Arm"

The French energy corporation Framatome operates the German nuclear fuel facility in Lingen through its subsidiary Advanced Nuclear Fuels. Two years ago, the state-owned French energy company EDF attempted to collaborate with the similarly state-owned Russian nuclear energy group Rosatom in a joint fuel element production venture, but those plans were scuttled following the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. Framatome launched this joint venture in France, but still intends to produce fuel elements for Soviet-designed nuclear power plants in Lingen, Eastern Germany, with Russian help. Franza Drechsel and Horst Hamm spoke with scientist Vladimir Slivyak and anti-nuclear campaigner Matthias Eickhoff about why French state-owned companies are enriching Russian uranium on German soil and what implications it has for the environment, the energy grid, and European geopolitics.

Wladimir Sliwjak, Winner of the Alternative Nobel Prize, photo: Right Livelihood Award

Mr. Eickhoff, can you explain to us why Framatome wants to involve the Russian nuclear group Rosatom in the production of fuel elements in Lingen? What exactly are the plans?

Matthias Eickhoff: There are two answers to this. Firstly, the French nuclear industry is heavily dependent on Russian uranium supplies and already signed a long-term strategic partnership with Rosatom in 2021. Secondly, Framatome — a subsidiary of the state-owned energy group EDF — wants to use its partnership with Rosatom to win new customers in Eastern Europe.

So, it’s all about growth. In this case, Framatome would like to take over fuel element production for Eastern Europe from the Lingen factory. However, this is only possible in partnership with Rosatom because the technical design of the Soviet-designed power plants is so sophisticated that it would take Framatome many years to complete production on its own.

Doesn’t this contradict European Union plans to pressure Russia — the aggressor in the War against Ukraine — by enacting sanctions?

Eickhoff: Yes, of course! France is one of the countries that, along with Hungary, consistently blocks new EU nuclear sanctions. However, it is unacceptable for economic and geopolitical interests to take precedence over security policy considerations in this dangerous area. The EU, and France in particular, is losing credibility here. There is also a lack of political commitment from the German government.

Mr. Slivyak, what role does Rosatom play in the war against Ukraine and in particular in the occupation of the Ukrainian nuclear power plant Zaporizhzhia, with its six reactors?

Wladimir Sliwjak: As a strategic tool of the Kremlin, Rosatom creates and perpetuates geopolitical dependencies. These dependencies are based on the promotion of nuclear power and have implications far beyond the energy sector. Rosatom is a state entity in charge of nuclear weapons, it reports to President Putin directly. Because of this, Rosatom is involved in the war against Ukraine, both directly and indirectly. For example, it played a key role in Russia’s takeover of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, which Rosatom owns and manages now. Rosatom has also offered to supply important components to Russian arms manufacturers who are under sanctions. Since Rosatom is not under sanctions, they have more flexibility in international trade relations when compared to sanctioned companies. Despite this, the European nuclear industry continues to cooperate closely with Rosatom. For example, Rosatom supplies uranium to Framatome’s ANF nuclear fuel facility in Lingen, Germany. It is also involved in the proposed expansion of the facility. If the deal goes ahead despite the war, it will allow Russia to increase its political influence on Germany and the EU.

Framatome is the power plant division of the French energy company EDF. Russia has replaced France as the world’s leading player in international nuclear power plant production. Rosatom has completed the first nuclear power plant in Turkey which is due to be connected to the grid soon. Rosatom is building new nuclear power plants everywhere, including in India, Bangladesh, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates. Is it a coincidence that these two companies want to work together in Lingen?

Sliwjak: This is not a coincidence. Framatome has been cooperating with Rosatom for decades, building new nuclear reactors and upgrading old reactors. This cooperation would not be possible without direct approval from the Kremlin and the French government. They are not competitors but good friends. French President Emmanuel Macron publicly speaks in support of Ukraine while, at the same time, the nuclear company under his direct control cooperates with Putin’s Rosatom. That’s a fact and it’s a dangerously stupid position for France to take. It’s like putting a fox in the hen house and hoping it will respect chickens. Ridiculous!

Why would this collaboration be in Rosatom’s interest? The fuel element factory in Lingen would receive the technical knowledge and license to produce hexagonal fuel assemblies for Soviet-designed reactors, sometimes known as VVER reactors. Rosatom currently has a monopoly on this, and 18 reactors in Finland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, and Bulgaria are dependent on them…

Sliwjak: Both Framatome and Rosatom are unable to ignore the risk of sanctions against the Russian nuclear industry. They were effective in preventing them in the past, but this issue will not disappear, it’s a ticking time bomb for Rosatom. The deal would be a stroke of luck for Framatome as it could expand its fuel supply where it couldn’t previously. Creating a joint venture in Europe allows Rosatom to stay in the European nuclear market and have access to the fuel market. With a share of 20 percent of European uranium supply it is possible to influence customers and the market. And we still don’t know details of the contract, for example: would Framatome allow Rosatom into their other businesses in exchange for this joint venture?

Does Rosatom’s interest then lie in accessing Framatome’s business?

Sliwjak: No, it is much more than that! Rosatom is, primarily, one arm of Putin’s geopolitical rule, and not just a business to make money. That’s why you can’t stop the war in Ukraine by offering Putin some money or any lucrative deals. He knows that if he wins the war he will get much more than any deals that can be offered today. So he will continue. Europeans really have to wake up and see the reality of who it is they are dealing with. The only deal acceptable for Putin today would be if Europe accepts his superiority and gives up on Ukraine. And that will automatically be followed by taking over Europe piece by piece, either through hybrid war or a real one. It is a pity that there are people in Europe who trust Russian propaganda on Ukraine and think that giving up support for Ukraine will help to avoid war with Russia. It only demonstrates to Putin that Europe can be taken over if violent force is used. A fox will take over a hen house if the farmer is afraid of it. Do you really want Rosatom in Lingen, do you really believe they will do something good for Europe? Engineers from Rosatom will come to Lingen along with agents from the Russian secret service — they always come together. Why do you think they will come? To help you? Framatome wants to make some money, but capitalist greed can kill. Why should Germany join this suicide pact?

What could and should Germany and the EU do to reduce their dependency on Rosatom in Europe and on the global market?

Sliwjak: First of all, Germans should understand that Russia is in a hybrid war with the West and that they are part of this West. You can hear it on state-controlled TV in Russia, it’s open, no one is hiding it. Rosatom is one of the instruments of this hybrid war. The Germans can choose to surrender or not. If they choose not to, if they want to keep their freedoms and assets, also for future generations, then Rosatom must not be allowed to work inside Europe. I know that with this sentiment I will disturb many people’s sense of inner peace, but this is the reality and ignoring it will come at a high cost. We live in this reality today because, in the past, European capitalist greed was so pronounced that it most likely made Putin one of the wealthiest people in the world, and he started to want more than just money. This is how it usually works with the rich, when you can’t control them through law and public opinion, and Putin is clearly out of control. Russian fuel in Lingen and Siemens Energy/Framatome involvement in new Rosatom reactors are just a couple of examples. There is still democracy in Germany, so use it — demand that German politicians take action against war criminals.

Eickhoff: I would like to add that we urgently need more sanctions at an EU level. Also, Germany and the EU must finally say goodbye to nuclear energy and drastically push forward the transition to renewable energy. In order to finally arrive in the twenty-first century in terms of economic, security, and climate policy, this must be the goal. It’s about time!

The green-led Ministry of Environment, Energy, Construction and Climate Protection in the state of Lower Saxony is responsible for ensuring that Rosatom’s entry is approved. Isn’t it absurd that, in times of war, the possibility of a Russian state-owned company becoming economically active on German soil in any form whatsoever is even being considered?

Eickhoff: Of course, we would have preferred that the state government of Lower Saxony and the German government had reached an agreement to abandon this dangerous project with the French government in advance. But at least the public is now being given a chance to provide input through the presentation of the application documents. We need an informed public debate about the type of geopolitical nuclear policy that is taking place here in the Emsland region.

Is the planned cooperation not a further example of why the German nuclear phase-out should be fully completed, and why the fuel element factory in Lingen and the uranium enrichment plant in Gronau should also be closed?

Eickhoff: We have been saying for years that the decommissioning of these two nuclear facilities is urgently needed in order to credibly complete the nuclear phase-out. The operation of the fuel element factory and the uranium enrichment plant inevitably leads to involvement in nuclear policy and international crises and conflicts. The cooperation with Rosatom is one example, but the uranium enrichment company Urenco, which is active in Gronau, has already supplied the Fukushima operator Tepco and the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine, which is now occupied by Russia, and currently also supplies the new nuclear power plants in the United Arab Emirates on the Persian Gulf. Involvement in so many controversial nuclear projects worldwide is irresponsible. And all this has absolutely nothing to do with the phasing out of nuclear power.

People in Germany can do something about the proposed joint venture and take action themselves. Can you give some concrete examples of what can be done?

Eickhoff: Objections to the Framatome and Rosatom project in Lingen can be submitted to the Ministry of Environment, Energy, Construction and Climate Protection in the state of Lower Saxony until 3 March. Anti-nuclear initiatives have also prepared collective objections. We are urgently calling for participation in order to demonstrate broad social protest. All information on how to participate can be found here. https://atomstadt-lingen.de/2024/01/03/beteiligung/

Wladimir Slivyak, born in 1973, is one of the co-founders of the Russian environmental organization Ecodefense. In 2021, he was awarded the Right Livelihood Award, the Alternative Nobel Prize. He has remained in Germany since receiving the award.

Matthias Eickhoff, born in 1966, is a spokesperson for the Münsterland Action Alliance against Nuclear Power Plants. Since the nuclear disaster in Chernobyl in 1986, he has been campaigning against nuclear power.

Interview: Franza Drechsel/Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung and Horst Hamm/Nuclear Free Future Foundation

Matthias Eickhoff, photo: private

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