In March 2022, a UN General Assembly Resolution condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine passed with 141 nations in favour, five against, 35 abstentions and 12 absences. Based on the results of a Norwegian Institute of International Affairs study published in Nature Energy this week, 40% of the 52 nations that did not vote in favour of the resolution have ties with Russian nuclear energy, while 33 countries that did condemn the invasion have not yet cut existing ties with Russia’s state-owned nuclear power company Rosatom.

REPowerEU, the European Commission’s strategy to liberate Europe from Russian fossil fuels before 2030, lists energy security as a major motivator, alongside accelerating the green energy transition.

However, based on existing and planned ventures with Rosatom, the study predicts that some countries' dependency on Russia for nuclear energy will grow considerably. By 2040, up to 78% of Hungary’s electricity could come from Russian-made reactors. Bulgaria faces the prospect of a 37% Russian reactor-dependent electricity grid by the same date.

“If we take the entire Rosatom project portfolio, the revenue these activities are able to generate [for the Russian state] cannot be ignored," Kacper Szulecki, co-author of the study told Energy Monitor. "The energy security risks of the nuclear sector are downplayed, but the events of last year across all Russia-EU energy relations show that even low-probability risks and hypothetical leverages can be exploited for political reasons.”

Outside the EU, Armenia and Sudan are heading towards up to 111% and 96% electricity dependency on Russian-made reactors, respectively, also by 2040, and both abstained in the March 2022 vote. Armenia's projected over-supply of power might mean the nation expects to need more electricity than the International Energy Agency estimates or that it plans to export the surplus, say the study's authors.

By 2040, 12% of even Spain's electricity grid could be fuelled by nuclear fuel imported from Russia.

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“[Spain’s] dependency is only in fuel supplies, and not reactor operation or construction, so it is a different kind of dependency," says Szulecki. "[We, the authors of this study] view fuel supplies as more flexible – though we also note that they are not easily replaced – and hence Spain’s dependency is less worrying than that of Slovakia or Hungary.”

More concerning than its Russian nuclear fuel dependency is Spain's overall level of nuclear cooperation with Russia, which ranks as high as China's and Armenia's, and resembles that of Hungary, which made headlines recently for vetoing EU sanctions on Russian nuclear energy.

“On the one hand, the index of intensity of collaboration shows us Russia’s energy diplomacy priorities, hence China and India are categorised as engaging in high-level cooperation, together with other geopolitically important partners such as Armenia, Belarus and Turkey. On the other hand, it highlights the fact that the vulnerabilities of partner countries are not solely technical in nature but also result from personal and informal ties that can be used for Russian lobbying or espionage. This especially concerns the ‘medium’ level of cooperation, which includes several European client states,” write the authors of the study.

Rosatom is formally engaged in the nuclear energy sectors of 54 countries worldwide, according to the study. The company had 73 projects with active contracts in 29 countries, which were not discontinued when Russia invaded Ukraine. These were at varying stages of development, from power plants in operation to involvement in tenders and invitations to partnerships. Rosatom’s projects and involvement have varied in ambition and cost, notes the study, ranging from several-hundred-million-dollar projects such as India’s Tarapur nuclear power plant ($700m) and Iran’s Bushehr-1 plant ($850m) to multibillion-dollar plants in Turkey ($20bn), Egypt ($30bn) and South Africa ($76bn).

“We hope that an overview of the entire landscape of Russian nuclear energy diplomacy can help in moving this issue higher on the political agenda," concludes Szulecki. "EU states have thus far failed to implement sanctions in the sector. Concerted action will be needed to – firstly – address the dependency on Russian technology, expertise and fuel, and – secondly – to develop an adequate response to Russia’s global use of nuclear energy as a tool of ‘soft’ power – with potentially ‘hard’ implications.”