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Friday, May 22, 2009

Siemens Seeks to Cash In on Russia's Atomic Adventure

Nuclear power is back in vogue in Russia, with 26 new reactors scheduled for construction by 2030. German industrial giant Siemens has grabbed a piece of the pie. But safety and financial concerns threaten to overshadow the country's atomic ambitions.

Olga Kurochkina can hardly hide her delight at making her German guests squirm. She has just served them caviar and pirogies and is now triumphantly waving a document in their faces. "Our students recently debated whether Germany needs nuclear energy," says Kurochkina, a teacher at an elite Moscow high school. "The arguments, of course, favor electricity from nuclear energy." Kurochkina insists that there are "significant disadvantages" to all other energy sources. Wind turbines? "They produce infrasound, which causes depression." Solar cells? "They cause local cooling of the air."

It is hard to believe, but German energy policy is up for debate in Russian classrooms. The students at Kuochkina's school pay rapt attention to a multimedia show in which a virtual professor praises the electricity generated by nuclear power. At the end of the film, a growing orange tree appears on the screen, symbolizing the growth of the Russian nuclear industry. The message is clear: Things are going uphill fast.

Nuclear power is back in vogue in Russia, as if the meltdown at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant had never happened. The giant country has plans to build 26 new domestic reactors by 2030, and 20 more abroad


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