Russia is one of the top producers and consumers of electric power in the world, with more than 230 gigawatts of installed generation capacity. In 2012, electric power generation totaled approximately 1,012 billion kilowatthours, and Russia consumed about 889 billion kilowatthours. [Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, July 2015 ~]

Fossil fuels (oil, natural gas, and coal) are used to generate roughly 67 percent of Russia's electricity, followed by nuclear (16 percent) and hydropower (16 percent). Most of the fossil fuel-fired generation comes from natural gas. Russia's electric power generation totaled 1,012 billion kilowatthours (BkWh) in 2012, and net electricity consumption stood at 889 BkWh. Russia exported approximately 18 BkWh of electricity in 2013, mainly to Finland, Belarus, Lithuania, China, and Kazakhstan.65 Russia also imported almost 5 BkWh of electricity in 2013, mainly from Kazakhstan. ~

Electric power stations utilize a variety of fuels and energy sources: petroleum, coal, and natural gas (together providing 66.3 percent of the total); hydroelectric power (17.2 percent); and nuclear power (16.4 percent). Plans call for substantial increases in hydroelectric production in the Far East and five new reactors at the 10 existing nuclear plants. In 2006 the system’s total generating capacity was about 210 gigawatts. The national electric power grid is divided into seven regional systems, all but one of which is fed from a state-controlled monopoly, the Unified Energy System. Energy supply problems include wasteful practices in all phases of production and supply; long distances between sites of fuel supply and power generation and between sites of power generation and consumption; a distribution infrastructure suffering from long-term neglect; a dangerously outmoded nuclear power infrastructure; and ownership uncertainty and tax pressure on key oil and gas enterprises. [Source: Library of Congress, October 2006 **]

A) Electricity - production: 1.054 trillion kWh (2013 est.); country comparison to the world: 4. B) Electricity - consumption: 1.037 trillion kWh (2013 est.); country comparison to the world: 4. C) Electricity - exports: 15.7 billion kWh (2013 est.); country comparison to the world: 12. D) Electricity - imports: 2.7 billion kWh (2013 est.); country comparison to the world: 53. E) Electricity - installed generating capacity: 239.7 million kW (2012 est.); country comparison to the world: 5. F) Electricity - from fossil fuels: 69.2 percent of total installed capacity (2012 est.); country comparison to the world: 110. G) Electricity - from nuclear fuels: 10.6 percent of total installed capacity (2012 est.); country comparison to the world: 18. H) Electricity - from hydroelectric plants: 20.2 percent of total installed capacity (2012 est.); country comparison to the world: 93. I) Electricity - from other renewable sources: 0 percent of total installed capacity (2012 est.); country comparison to the world: 119. [Source: CIA World Factbook =]

Energy used to generate electricity in 1996: 1) natural gas (40.1 percent); 2) hydro (20.5 percent); 3) coal (18.3 percent); 4) nuclear (11.6 percent); 5) oil (9.2 percent); 6) other (0.3 percent). [Source: OECD, Energy Balance of OECD countries]

Electricity Sector in Russia

Much like the oil and natural gas sectors, a number of ministries and regulatory agencies are involved in the electric sector. The Ministry for Economic Development supervises tariffs and investment in the energy sector. The Ministry of Energy is in charge of general energy policy, including development of the legal framework for the electricity sector. The Ministry of Energy also approves investment plans for Russia's electric transmission system. [Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, July 2015 ~]

The main regulatory agencies involved in the sector include the Federal Tariff Service (regulates transmission tariffs) and the Federal Anti-Monopoly Service (oversees compliance with the unbundling rules and charges of abuse of market dominance in competitive electric markets). The state atomic energy corporation, Rosatom, controls all aspects of the nuclear sector in Russia including uranium mining, fuel production, nuclear plant engineering and construction, generation of nuclear power, and nuclear plant decommissioning. ~

There are seven separate regional power systems in the Russian electricity sector. These systems are: Northwest, Center, South, Middle Volga, Urals, Siberia, and Far East. The Far East system is fragmented with a weak connection to its neighbor to the west, the Siberian system. The Siberian system is also weakly connected with its neighbor to the west, the Urals system. The remaining five systems covering European Russia are well integrated with one another and connected to systems in neighboring countries. ~

The Russian electric sector was restructured in the past decade, and much of it was privatized. The reform required ownership unbundling in the electricity sector, separating the industry into largely privately-owned, competitive generation assets and state-controlled, regulated transmission assets. No company is allowed to own both generation and transmission assets. The Federal Grid Company, which is more than 70 percent owned by the Russian government (directly and through Gazprom), controls most of the transmission and distribution infrastructure in Russia. The grid comprises more than 1.5 million miles of power lines, including slightly less than 100,000 miles of high-voltage cables more than 220 kilovolts (Kv). The government has been trying to attract private investment into the wholesale and regional electric generating companies. As part of the market reform, most of Russia's fossil-fueled power generation was also privatized, while nuclear and hydropower remain under state control. ~

Unified Energy System

Unified Energy System of Russia was an electric power holding company in Russia. The world’s largest electricity utility in terms of generating capacity, it was a state-run monopoly that It controlled about 70 percent of Russia's installed electric capacity, 96 percent of its high-voltage grid and over 70 percent of its transmission lines. It was founded in 1992 and broken up in the mid 2000s.

Unified Energy System was headed in the early 2000s by Anatoly Chubais, a top advisor in the Yeltsin government and the mastermind of Russia’s post Soviet privatization. Chubais promoted deregulating the electricity industry, a plan that could have made him fabulously wealthy while increasing the expenses for many businesses and households. Chubais later promoted breaking up and restructuring the electricity industry. A 2003 law aimed to restructure the energy sector substantially, including extensive privatization of energy provision and elimination of the Unified Energy System.

The reorganization of Unified Energy System (RAO UES) started in 2006. The first stage of the reorganization was completed on September 3, 2007, during which subsidiary generating companies, WGC-5 and TGC-5, were individually spun off from the parent RAO UES. During a second stage of reorganization, all remaining subsidiaries of RAO UES were spun off (by July 1, 2008). This reorganization was seen as a massive privatization of the power industry, with the goal of attaining about US$79 billion in investments. As a result, RAO UES ceased to exist after its merger into UES FGC, a Federal Grid Company. Altogether, six wholesale generation companies (WGC), 14 territorial generation companies (TGC), RusHydro, FGC UES (Federal Grid Company), SO-CDA (System Operator), IDC Holding, RAO ES of the East, and Inter RAO UES continue to operate as independent entities. [Source: Wikipedia]

Conventional Power Generation in Russia in the 1990s

In the 1990s, much of the conventional fuel produced in Russia was burned to produce electric power. The Unified Electric Power System operated Russia's electric power plants through seventy-two regional power distribution companies. The power system consisted of 600 thermal generating systems, more than 100 hydroelectric plants, and Russia's nine nuclear plants. Of the total rated generating capacity of 205 gigawatts, only about 188 gigawatts were available as of 1996. In 1995 Russia's power plants generated a total of 846 million kilowatt-hours, compared with 859 million kilowatt-hours in 1994. Generation for the first quarter of 1996 (normally the peak demand period of the year) was 268 million kilowatt-hours. [Source: Library of Congress, July 1996 *]

In 1993 natural gas provided 42 percent of electricity production; hydroelectric plants, 19 percent; coal, 18 percent; nuclear power, 13 percent; and other sources such as solar and geothermal plants, 8 percent. Natural gas and coal are burned at thermoelectric plants, which produce only electricity, and at cogeneration plants, which produce electricity and heat for urban centers. The largest hydroelectric plants are located on the Volga, Kama, Ob', Yenisey, and Angara rivers, where large reservoirs were built in massive Soviet energy projects. Thermoelectric and hydroelectric plants--located in Siberia because of available fuels and water power--send power to European Russia through a system of high-voltage transmission lines. *

Consumption of electric power divided into the following categories: industrial, 61 percent; residential, 11 percent; the services sector, 11 percent; transportation, 9 percent; and agriculture, 8 percent. Regional energy commissions controlled the price of electricity. *

Nuclear Power in Russia

Russia is the third-largest generator of nuclear power in the world and fourth-largest in terms of installed nuclear capacity. With nine nuclear reactors currently under construction, Russia is the second country in the world, after China, in terms of number of reactors under construction as of March 2015. Russia has an installed nuclear capacity of more than 24 million kilowatts, distributed across 34 operating nuclear reactors at 10 locations. Nine plants are located west of the Ural Mountains. The only exception is the Bilibino plant in the far northeast. [Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, July 2015 ~]

Russia's current federal target program envisions a 25 percent to 30 percent nuclear power share of total generation by 2030, 45 percent to 50 percent by 2050, and 70 percent to 80 percent by 2100. To achieve these goals, the rapidly aging nuclear reactor fleet in Russia will need to be replaced with new nuclear power plants. Russia has completed a $780 million, 1,000-megawatt light-water reactor started in 1979 by Germany and later suspended.

Russians are less squeamish and have a different attitude about nuclear energy and radiation than Americans and Europeans. Many Russian who live in areas contaminated by radioactivity don't seem to care. They drink the water and eat fish from contaminated rivers and lakes even they have been warned not to. Russians who work around nuclear facilities claim that vodka washes away radiation. Russian scientists regard plutonium as a "national treasure."

Russian Nuclear Power Plants

Russia has 34 operating nuclear reactors at 10 locations, compared 29 in nine locations in 1996. They includes 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. [Source: Library of Congress, July 1996 *]

As of May 2015, nine new nuclear reactors were officially under construction across Russia, with 7,371 megawatt electric (MWe) net generating capacity. One of the plants under construction is a floating nuclear power plant, which is expected to commence operations by 2018. In addition to the nine nuclear reactors currently under construction, there are another 31 units planned, with a total gross generating capacity of more than 32,000 MWe. These units are planned to be completed between 2017 and 2030. [Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, July 2015 ~]

Condition of Russia’s Nuclear Power Plants

None of Russia nuclear power plants has a complete safety certificate. Many have been cited for hundreds of violations. Even so the government wants to build more nuclear plants, including 40 "fast breeder" reactors that use plutonium for fuel. Some of Russia’s nuclear power plants rely on the same technology as the plant at Chernobyl. The Chernobyl reactor was a RBMK-type reactor. A total of 17 of these reactors were built—four in the Ukraine 11 in Russia and 2 in Lithuania. Most of the other reactors in the former Soviet Union are similar to those in the United States and Europe.

One problem with many Russian nuclear power plants is that they do not have concrete containment domes, which contain the radiation, like those found on Western countries. In 2003, the United States made a deal with Russia to build two-coal burning power plants in exchange for closing three plutonium reactors regarded as among the most dangerous in the world.

Russia's nuclear power facilities are aging. The working life of a reactor is considered to be 30 years, but Russia has an active life extension program. The period for extension is established by the government as 15 years, and 21 of Russia's nuclear reactors, accounting for half of the country's operating nuclear capacity, are 30 or more years old. Eleven of the country's 34 nuclear reactors use the high-power channel reactor (RBMK) design employed in Ukraine's Chernobyl plant. Russia's newest reactor, the 1,011 Megawatt electric (MWe) Rostov 3 reactor, was connected to the grid in December 2014, and it is expected to begin commercial operation in the third quarter of 2015. [Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, July 2015 ~]

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. [Source: Library of Congress, July 1996 *]

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. *

There are high risk nuclear reactor sites in Kola, St. Petersburg, Smolensk, Novovoronezh and Kursk. Three 3 nuclear submarines stationed at the Siberian town of Viliuchinsk were jerry-rigged to provide electricity. Around 34 tons of plutonium, much of it produced by nuclear power plants, is stockpiled in Russia.

See Environment

Floating Nuclear Power Plants

Russia plans to build floating nuclear power plants that conceivably can be pulled across the world by tugboats and parked anywhere. One of these plants, about the size of a submarine reactor, was built at a cost of $260 million for an Arctic mining region. The reactor produced enough electricity for a town of 50,000 and periodically is pulled to its home port near St. Petersburg for refueling, repairs and the removal of radioactive waste.

Russia was scheduled to begin construction of a larger floating nuclear power plant in 2006 and have such plants ready by 2015 but the program has been delayed. There is currently one under construction that is supposed to be ready by 2018. The ship-based plant is being built in Severodvinsk in Russia’s far north and will produce 70 megawatts of power, enough to provide energy for a city of 200,000 people. The reactors are similar to those on nuclear submarines and icebreakers. These are constructed in St. Petersburg.

The first reactors were slated to be built to supply electricity for the remote northern coast, where power shortages in the frigid winter are a particular problem, and was scheduled to be completed in 2011 at a cost of $200 million. Russia had hopes to export them. China signed up for one. Russia also hopes to export them to Thailand, Indonesia. the Middle East and Canada.

Environmentalist and security experts have many objections to plants: first and foremost that they will be moored in remote locations and will hard to reach in the event of an accident or terrorist attack. A Russian official working on the project told the Times of London: “Leakage won’t occur even if a plane or helicopter crashes into the floating block. The construction comes with a 100 percent guarantees.”

There are also concerns about the reactor itself—which contains enough nuclear material to build several nuclear weapons—falling into terrorist hands. Greenpeace is among the most vocal opponents of the plants. They have argued the same of energy could be supplied more cheaply and safely with wind and solar power.

Geothermal and Peat Power in Russia

Geothermal water found on the Kamchatka peninsula is below 300 degrees F. Since this is not hot enough to produce enough steam to turn a turbine, the water is used to heat low-boiling point liquids such as Freon and isobutane and the resulting vapor is powerful enough to turn the turbines. [Source: Kenneth Weaver, National Geographic, October 1977]

Russia is the worlds leading peat producer, harvesting 200 million tons annually , some of which powers 76 power plants (early 2000s). Automatic peat cutting machines with mechanical arms can plop down 360 sods of peat every 30 seconds. The first peat cutting machines were invented by the Soviets who used peat to run factories and power trains.

In the northern regions of Russia permafrost sometimes forms in the bogs, pushing the peat into cones of strange amoeba-like hummocks called palsas. Palsas thirty feet high have been reported in central Siberia.

Coal in Russia

With 173 billion short tons, Russia held the world's second-largest recoverable coal reserves, behind the United States, which held roughly 259 billion short tons in 2011, the most recent year for which these data are available. Russia produced 392 million short tons in 2012, making it the sixth-largest coal producer in the world, behind China, United States, India, Indonesia, and Australia. About 80 percent of Russia's coal production was steam coal, and about 20 percent was coking coal, according to Eastern Bloc Research.[Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, July 2015 ~]

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. [Source: Library of Congress, July 1996 *]

In 2012, Russia consumed a little more than three quarters of its coal production and exported the rest. Although coal accounts for a relatively modest share of Russia's total energy consumption, it is a more vital part of consumption in Siberia, where most Russian coal is mined. Although coal is not very important as a whole, some industries rely on it and many people burn it in their homes. Many coals mines have been closed down since the break up of the Soviet Union. Workers have staged strikes and temporarily closed down the Trans-Siberian Railroad demanding new jobs.

Coal is one of the less important sources of energy because its labor-intensive extraction makes production much more costly than other fuels. In the 1990s, Rossugol', the Russian coal company, controled coal production through regional associations that are organized as joint-stock companies. Russian coal production has declined in the 1980s and 90s and the coal industry has suffered a long series of strikes. Coal miners, among the best paid industrial workers of the Soviet period, organized strikes that have gained national attention to protest the industry's long delays in paying wages. In 1994 Russia produced 249 million tons of coal, and in 1995 the total rose to 255 million tons. [Source: Library of Congress, July 1996 *]

Coal reserves: 1) the United States (27 percent); 2) Russia (17 percent); 3) China (13 percent); 4) Australia (9 percent); 5) South Africa (5 percent); Other (19 percent). Coal consumption (millions of tons): 1) China (1,531); 2) Europe (1,117); 3) United States (1,094); 4) India (431); 5) Russia (251). Other (1,016). Expected coal consumption in 2025 (millions of tons): 1) China (3,242); 2) United States (1,505); 3) Europe (853); 4) India (736); 5) Russia (288). Other (1,602).

Russian Coal-Producing Regions

More than half of Russia's coal production comes from the Kuzbass basin, in central Russia. There are rich deposits of coal in Kemerovo region of the Kuzbass basin in Siberia, which is a about 3,000 kilometers east of Moscow. The are also large deposits in the Far East. Mines are located in Novoshakhtinsk, southern Russia, around the city of Vorkuta in the Arctic, 1,900 kilometers northeast of Moscow, and in the Donets, Moscow and Pechora basins in European Russia. In the Soviet era large amounts of coal came from the Ukraine

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.

Russian Coal Exports

Russia's coal exports have generally grown steadily since the late 1990s, with exports to Asia growing strongly in the past few years. In 2014, about 44 percent of Russia's coal exports went to Asia. Russia's total coal exports have almost tripled over the past decade. Exports are expected to continue to grow in the future. In the short-term, the weaker ruble, caused by sanctions and low oil prices, should make Russian coal exports more price-competitive in both Europe and Asia. [Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, July 2015 ~]

Kuzbass coal must travel long distances by rail, about 2,600 miles to reach Russia's Baltic port of Ust-Luga, for export to European countries. The overland distance to Voctochny port, for export to Asian consumers, is even greater. This long overland transport generally puts Russian coal at an economic disadvantage to competing sources of coal. Even so, in 2012, Russia was the third-largest coal exporting country in the world, exporting 145 million short tons, seaborne and overland. The top two coal exporters were Indonesia and Australia. ~

Russia's coal-exporting ports are geographically located to serve either European or Asian markets. Some of Russia's major coal ports include Murmansk, Ust-Luga, and Tuapse, all of which lie in the West and handle exports to Europe. Vanino and Vostochny lie in the East and handle exports to Asia. China and some East European countries receive imports from Russia directly by rail. Russia has plans to expand port capacity to facilitate more exports to Asia. Additionally, in late 2014 and early 2015, Russia delivered two test shipments of coal to the port of Rajin in North Korea, via a recently refurbished rail line. From Rajin, the coal was loaded on to ships for delivery to South Korea. ~

Coal Mine Disasters in Russia

In the early 2000s, there were .66 deaths per million tons of coal produced in Russia, compared to 0.04 deaths in the United States, 7.29 deaths in China, and .23 deaths in Poland.

In June 2003, 11 miners were killed and four others were trapped by a methane explosion that caused a ceiling to collapse in the Ziminka coal mine in the Kemerovo region in the Kuzbass area of Siberia. Thirty miners were in a shaft. They were trying to put out a fire when the blast occurred. In October 2003, 46 miners trapped in a 800-meter-deep underground shaft, near Rostov-on-Don, flooded by an underground lake were all rescued alive.

In August 2004, 11 of 13 miners trapped in the Zapadnaya underground mine in Novoshakhtinsk, southern Russia were rescued alive after six days. Rescuers blasted a tunnel through solid rock to get to them. The miners had been trapped by a flood. Rescuers found them by following notes left behind at the place they were when the flood occurred. Two miners died.

In April 2004, 20 miners were killed in a methane blast in an underground mine in the Kemerovo region. In August 2004, seven miners were killed when a wall of tunnel collapsed in an underground mine near the city of Vorkuta in the Arctic, 1,900 kilometers northeast of Moscow. In February 2005, 22 people were killed in an explosion at a 20-year-old coal mine in the Kemerovo region.

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Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, U.S. government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2016

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