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Russia’s transition strategy must include more ambitious renewable energy goals, and nuclear plans must be abandoned.

On June 30, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak announced Russia was planning to increase the share of renewables in the country’s energy mix by 10 times by the year 2040. Today, that share is around 1%. Coal, on the other hand, is expected to shrink from today’s 15% to 7% by the same year. Russia, thus, is finally making its first steps in a process already launched in many other countries with the goal of replacing fossil fuels with environmentally and climate-friendly clean energy sources.

But it is doing so too slowly, and lagging, as it is, tremendously behind the rest of the world. Moreover, as outlined in the Coal Industry Development Program to 2035, adopted last summer, Russia still plans to ramp up its coal production significantly. At a time when practically all consumers of Russian coal abroad are already decreasing or are going to decrease fossil fuel use – and now Russia’s statements place it among these countries – the targets of this program are, too, apparently in need of revision: It no longer makes any sense to expand coal mining, but the time is now to plan diversification of the economies of Russian coal-mining regions.

Moving away from coal, the dirtiest and most climate-damaging fuel, is the right decision, but no steps have been announced yet to replace oil or gas. And even where coal alone is concerned, reducing its share in Russia’s energy mix to 7% by 2040 is too weak a target for a country aiming to make its contribution to the global fight against climate change. Russia within the next two decades could well wean itself off coal completely and decrease considerably the share of the other fossil fuels in its energy mix with a more vigorous renewable energy development program.

Deputy Minister Novak mentioned nuclear energy as well in the context of an energy transition in Russia. By 2040, he said, the share of nuclear generation in the country could be increased from 20% to 25%. The Russian government aims to focus specifically on small modular reactors, known for a particularly high cost of the energy they are able to produce.

Including nuclear energy into the energy transition plan is a fundamentally wrong move. Firstly, nuclear power is unlikely to play a meaningful role in helping to decarbonize Russian economy – if renewable energy capacities are to see that much more growth than nuclear by 2040. Secondly, in addition to being very expensive, construction periods in nuclear projects are too long, while greenhouse gas emissions from nuclear fuel manufacturing and from the fossil-fired stations awaiting replacement are quite appreciable. And thirdly, nuclear energy is linked inextricably to major accident risks and to the yet-to-be-solved issue of managing nuclear waste, which will remain dangerous for hundreds of thousands of years. More than that, nuclear power plants across the world are becoming more vulnerable to devastating weather events that result from climate change. The ever more frequent heat waves, floods, and hurricanes can have an extremely serious impact on nuclear safety and increase the risk of new accidents. Renewable energy does not come with these problems.

“The Russian government needs to adjust its energy transition strategy: Its exit from fossil fuels can and must happen faster. This will help save nature, the climate, and human lives. Russia must also set more ambitious renewable energy development targets – and rule out the development of dangerous and expensive nuclear energy,” said Vladimir Slivyak, co-chairman of Russian environmental group Ecodefense.

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