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.