Two new nuclear reactors have been officially inaugurated, each notable in its own way, in Russia and in Pakistan.

As a result of special Russian government funding in 1999, and more than 20 years after construction began, the 1000 MW Rostov unit 1 atomic power station in southern Russia has finally been completed and started up. It is operating at minimal power but will gradually be cranked up to full power over the coming months. It is the first new start up since 1993 when the fourth reactor at Balakovo was brought into operation.

The Rostov reactor had been almost completed when construction was stopped in 1990 on government instructions because of public protests following the Chernobyl explosion in 1986. But as coal fired plants deteriorated and cash flow shortages led to more frequent blackouts, the government embarked on a drive to revive the nuclear industry including the setting aside of funds to finish constructing mothballed power plants.

Rostov is a VVER, the Russian version of the pressurised water reactor (PWR). Unlike reactors of the RBMK (Chernobyl) type, it has a concrete containment structure designed to withstand internal explosions; and is reputedly capable of standing up to magnitude 7 earthquake or the crash on site of a 20 ton aircraft.

Local residents and environmentalists are opposed to the plant. The area is forested and prone to earth tremors. Also, they say, the plant was not properly maintained during the nine years it was left unfinished.

Meanwhile Pakistan’s newest nuclear plant, the 300 MW Chashma power station, was officially opened on March 29 amid scenes of jubilant celebration and expressions of delight from the governments involved – the Chinese who designed and built it, and the Pakistan government who bought it. It is the first all-Chinese designed PWR to be exported, and essentially replicates China’s own Qinshan plant. It has pre-stressed concrete containment, and took six years to build. It is seen as a model of Sino-Pakistan cooperation and is the most recent completed project in what is now a long standing special arrangement between the two countries for the exchange of high technology development, intended mainly as a way of more quickly creating technological independence from the West for developing countries.