News October 9, 2019

Research report: Nuclear energy is a potential tool for geopolitical influence

Energy is a potential tool for geopolitical influence. Nuclear energy is no different from oil and gas in this respect. Many of the hybrid threats relating to nuclear energy are not direct and obvious, but hidden and derive from spill-over effects. Nuclearpower plant building projects have embedded hybrid threat potential, where spill-overs to different domains such as intelligence, legal, economic, information, social, infrastructure, political and military can be used to exert powerful leverage.

The research report “Nuclear energy and the current security environment in the era of hybrid threats” is a joint publication by four Centres of Excellence: Hybrid CoE, CCDCOE, STRATCOMCOE and ENSECCOE. It includes three case studies: Ostrovets nuclear power plant (NPP) in Belarus, the Paks NPP project in Hungary, and the Hanhikivi NPP project in Finland. The case studies revealed that the Russian state nuclear energy company Rosatom should be examined as a significant actor in the European nuclear energy sector due to the fact that it also has ambitions outside of Europe. Rosatom is part of the Russian state’s foreign policy and any deal for nuclear power plant construction has objectives aside from economic ones.

“The Ostrovets case study indicated that nuclear power plants are strategic assets and therefore even military protection around them is possible. This protection could also be used offensively if a need or opportunity presents itself,” said Dr. Hanna Smith, Director of Strategic Planning and Responses at the Hybrid CoE. The Hanhikivi case showed that Russia tried to use a proxy to finance the project. “An enterprise purporting to be a Croatian energy company, Migrit Solarna Energija appeared “out of thin air” to provide a “European” investment of 159 million euros for the project. The case was quickly picked up by Finnish and even international media, which identified the company as a Russian strawman with owners linked to the Russian banking sector,” added Smith.

In the case of Hungary, the Paks nuclear power plant should be viewed in the wider context of energy policy and ties with Russia. The Russian 10-billion-euro credit line for the Paks II project is roughly three times bigger than the highest estimates for Russian-related investment in Hungary as a whole. If Hungary utilizes this credit line fully, it will create a direct channel on a liability equal to 10% of the country’s GDP.

The full report can be downloaded from the Hybrid CoE website.

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