Russia Table of Contents
For more than 150 years, coal was the dominant fuel supporting Russia's industries, and many industrial centers were located near coal deposits. In the 1960s, oil and natural gas overtook coal when plentiful reserves of those fuels became available and the coal shafts of the European Soviet Union (located primarily in what is today Ukraine) were being exhausted. Russian coal reserves are estimated at 200 billion tons, an amount that experts say is more than ample for current usage trends. Siberia and the Far East produce about three-quarters of Russia's coal, with the European contributions coming largely from the Vorkuta field (Pechora Basin) in Komi, the Urals, the eastern Donets Basin in the southwest, and the Moscow Basin. Largely untapped coal fields lie in the Siberian Tunguska and Lena basins. Productive fields in Siberia are located along the Trans-Siberian Railroad, making their exploitation more economical. The largest operational sources in that region are the Kuznetsk, Kansk-Achinsk, and Cheremkhovo fields. Coal is one of the less important sources of energy because its labor-intensive extraction makes production much more costly than other fuels. Rossugol', the Russian coal company, controls coal production through regional associations that are organized as joint-stock companies. Russian coal production has declined markedly over the last decade, and the coal industry has suffered a long series of strikes. Coal miners, among the best paid industrial workers of the Soviet period, have organized strikes that have gained national attention to protest the industry's long delays in paying wages. Experts predict that coal output will continue to dwindle as its relative usefulness in industry and domestic applications is reduced. In 1994 Russia produced 249 million tons of coal, and in 1995 the total rose to 255 million tons. Production for the first quarter of 1996 was 71 million tons.
In 1996 some twenty-nine nuclear reactors were operating at nine sites: Balakovo on the northwest border of Kazakstan, Beloyarsk in the southern Urals, Bilibino in northeastern Siberia (the only station east of the Urals), Kola in the far northwest, Kursk near the Ukrainian border, Novovoronezh on the Don River, St. Petersburg, Smolensk west of Moscow, and Tver' northwest of Moscow. Altogether these facilities accounted for 10 percent of Russia's energy generating capacity in 1994. The plants are operated by regional joint-stock companies in which the Ministry of Atomic Energy (Minatom) controls 51 percent of the shares. The nuclear energy sector has undergone financial problems because of government funding reductions. The industry has turned to selling goods related to nuclear energy--equipment and instruments, nuclear fuel, medical isotopes, and fertilizers.
The industry's financial problems, along with the disaster that occurred at the Chernobyl' plant in Ukraine in 1986, have raised questions about nuclear safety. Western countries have provided financial assistance in some cases because of their concern about Russia's lax standards of handling nuclear materials and the continued use of outmoded equipment. Russia's piecemeal environmental laws have led to indiscriminate dumping and burial of radioactive wastes, which are creating severe environmental problems. The theft of nuclear materials has become another source of danger emanating from Russia's nuclear energy program (see Environmental Conditions, ch. 3; The Crime Wave of the 1990s, ch. 10).
Nevertheless, experts predict that nuclear energy probably will play an important role in the Russian economy if enough investment is available to expand existing capacity. In 1992 Minatom announced plans to double nuclear energy capacity by 2010, but ensuing financial problems have caused a reduction of that goal, and no new capacity has been added since the breakup of the Soviet Union. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) projects that construction of new capacity will not begin until after 2005, even if the investment climate is favorable.
Data as of July 1996
Russia Table of Contents