The state corporation seizes on any projects, but many do not follow through
Rosatom’s subsidiaries are starting to finalize the “Electronic Tour” system addressed to participants in the tourism market. It would seem, where is tourism, and where is the construction of nuclear power plants? However, this is far from the first non-core venture of Rosatom – previously it has already tried to engage in the construction of port infrastructure, medicine, and the development of wind farms. One gets the impression that Rosatom’s top management is deliberately looking for projects that are as far away from nuclear energy as possible.
The travel industry has been talking about the creation of an “Electronic voucher” system for at least ten years. Then one of the beneficiaries of this idea was called Inna Beltyukova, the owner of the then large market operator Capital Tour, which noisily went bankrupt in the early 1910s. Later, the Asteros group became interested in the “Electronic Tour” and won an open competition to create this system in 2015. And since 2017, the system has been under the wing of Rostec structures. What already reportedAccording to industry associations, it took almost half a billion rubles to create the system. Now all that was left to do was to finalize the “Electronic Ticket” and launch it. Prime Group LLC decided to do this, with which the Ministry of Economy has already concluded a contract worth 47.1 million rubles. Almost half (49%) of this company belongs to JSC Atomdata-Integration, controlled by Rosatom. The latter, judging by open source data, was created just over a year ago. The main activity of the company is advisory work in the field of computer technology, and the number of company employees, according to open data, is only seven people. In a word, it seems that we are not talking about an IT giant at all, but about a very modest company.
The question naturally arises: why suddenly “the national leader in electricity production” suddenly develops a small IT consulting firm, and even gets involved in an almost ready-made industry project that has nothing to do with nuclear energy? The answer seems simple: travel agencies will have to pay 2 million rubles to connect to the system. Considering that 4,237 companies are registered in the register, the system operator will receive over 9 billion rubles.
Another thing is that in recent years all of Rosatom’s activities have actually been reduced to such projects. Perhaps it has become difficult to make money in the core market?
At the end of last year, Rosatom summed up the results of the last 15 years of work with great fanfare. As the general director of the corporation, Alexey Likhachev, noted, since 2007 it has not only become a world leader in nuclear technology, but has also begun to advance into other sectors of the economy. What important and promising directions has Rosatom chosen for itself? One of these successful businesses was supposed to be toxic waste disposal. In March of this year, a new system was launched, created specifically for the Federal State Unitary Enterprise “Federal Environmental Operator” (part of Rosatom), suggesting that all companies that generate waste of the first and second hazard classes must order services for their removal and processing at this Federal State Unitary Enterprise. The enterprise can remove and process this waste itself or attract subcontractors.
However, in July, the relevant committee of the Russian Chamber of Commerce and Industry noted that the new system did not work. The single operator for the disposal of toxic waste actually fails to cope with its tasks, says an official letter from representatives of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry sent to the State Duma. The attempt to monopolize the industry by creating a single operator actually led to the fact that the previous business chains were broken, while the Rosatom Federal State Unitary Enterprise never established a new system. In total, as Rosatom calculated, applications were received for the removal of 2.3 thousand tons of waste. According to independent estimates, this figure is negligible: more than 300 thousand tons of such waste are generated in the country per year. “The forecast about the ineffectiveness of monopolization is in fact confirmed. The old system, which, of course, needed to be reformed, but through market methods, was destroyed, and the monopoly did not show a positive result,” Boris Morgunov, director of the Institute of Ecology at the National Research University Higher School of Economics, assessed Rosatom’s work on waste disposal.
Noisy scandal flares up and around another Rosatom division – the Federal State Unitary Enterprise “National Operator for Radioactive Waste Management”. According to the Investigative Committee, the general director of this company, Igor Igin, received 132.5 million rubles in bribes from St. Petersburg LLC Spetsproekt for concluding four government contracts. The investigation of the case has not yet been completed – Mr. Igin, who does not admit his guilt, will be in custody until September 24, by court decision.
If the disposal of radioactive waste in general can be attributed to the core activities of the nuclear corporation, then other initiatives raise questions. Several years ago it became known that Rosatom decided to enter the wind energy market. “The state corporation sets itself the tasks of not only the construction of wind power plants (WPPs), but also the creation of a system of technical regulation, personnel training, organization of localization of wind turbine production (wind power plant – Ed.), certification, development of R&D,” according to the official website of Rosatom “
With the development of research and development (R&D) and localization, however, there was a problem. In March, it became known that a Russian plant producing blades for wind farms had stopped following the departure of Western companies from Russia. The thing is that the blades were supplied to the Russian site in the Ulyanovsk region by the Danish company Vesta, which decided to withdraw from Russian projects.
Meanwhile, Rosatom, which clearly intended to take a leading position in the wind energy market, already had competitors. Uralenergosbyt LLC announced plans to build 17 wind power plants. Initially, this company was associated with the Finnish state concern Fortum. However, after the Finns announced the suspension of their projects in Russia, and foreign assets in the Russian Federation began to come under external management, Vyacheslav Kozhevnikov, the chief power engineer of Bashneft-Dobycha LLC, became the general director of PJSC Fortum. In addition, the Chinese company Beijing Huatai Zhongheng New Energy Investment Management Co. also proposed its projects. Ltd. Thus, in the absence of the necessary technologies, Rosatom risks losing its position in the wind farm market. Accordingly, writing off the money spent as a loss.
Although the development of Onyx at Rosatom was carried out at state expense (the corporation received a grant from the Ministry of Education and Science in the amount of 250 million rubles), doubts remain whether the invested funds will ultimately work for the benefit of the state
Ambitious plans of the Rosatom division were also announced in the medical equipment market. Thus, last year, JSC Rusatom Healthcare, controlled by the state corporation, received a registration certificate from Roszdravnadzor for a radiation therapy complex based on the Onyx electron accelerator.
As reported, it was planned to begin equipping medical institutions with devices this year. However, here’s the problem – despite the fact that Onyx is positioned as a domestic development, in fact the share of Russian components in it is 80%. This is a fairly significant percentage, but Onyx will not be able to work without imported components. Therefore, it is possible that the situation may develop according to a scenario similar to the production of wind turbines.
In addition, Rosatom clearly will not be able to satisfy the needs of the Russian market for such devices: the corporation promises to produce only 5–10 such devices per year. At the same time, according to Rosstat, in 2021, Russian clinics used 262 similar devices, most of which were already outdated – 71 accelerators needed replacement. According to experts, in order to meet the needs of the domestic market, at least 200 devices will be required. Thus, the achievement so far looks rather modest.
It is also important that the development of Onyx at Rosatom was carried out at state expense (the corporation received a grant from the Ministry of Education and Science in the amount of 250 million rubles), doubts remain as to whether the invested funds will ultimately work for the benefit of the state. The thing is that the medical division of Rosatom – the already mentioned JSC Rusatom Healthcare – was until recently headed by Natalya Komarova, who, according to information from open sources, may have family ties with the oligarch Viktor Vekselberg. The latter has its own interests in the medical equipment market, including the supply of devices and consumables. So it is not yet entirely obvious to whom, where and for how much the same Onyxes will ultimately be supplied.
Rosatom’s attempts to make money on non-core projects are quite understandable. The corporation continues to be the world’s largest nuclear energy enterprise, providing a full range of services from the construction of power units to fuel disposal. Thus, Rosatom’s share in the global uranium enrichment market is estimated at 30%; in addition, the corporation provides nuclear fuel for a fifth of the US needs for enriched uranium. Nevertheless, Rosatom’s position in recent years has not become as strong as before. Against the backdrop of sanctions and current politics, Finland abandoned the joint project to build the Hanhikivi-1 nuclear power plant. In addition, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria and Slovakia have decided to purchase nuclear fuel from the American Westinghouse in the future. Cooperation with South Africa should partly compensate for the loss – the corresponding memorandum was signed in August. Also, in January, the head of Rosatom, Alexei Likhachev, stated that the corporation is now negotiating new projects with about a dozen countries and in three or four countries they are even close to completion and signing contracts.