12 march 2011

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin meets with Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin, Rosatom Director General Sergei Kiriyenko and First Deputy Emergencies Minister Ruslan Tsalikov

The discussion centered on the situation related to the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Among other things, Mr Putin instructed officials to study the issue of increasing the supply of hydrocarbons to Japan, and to re-verify the readiness of the manpower and resources in the event of situations of this kind.

Transcript of the beginning of the meeting:

Vladimir Putin: Let's talk about the predicament that befell our neighbours in the Far East, in Japan. Once again, on behalf of the Russian government, I would like to express our condolences to the Japanese government in connection with the disaster and the numerous casualties there.

Our warning system worked – it worked effectively and in a timely manner. But our neighbours are faced with a terrible tragedy. Therefore, I ask you to work with our Japanese colleagues through various departments and companies on issues related to providing possible assistance, should such assistance be needed, as well as through the Federal Atomic Energy Agency, the Emergencies Ministry and the Energy Ministry.

If necessary, please look into the possibility of increasing the supply of hydrocarbons, in particular, liquefied natural gas, to help compensate for the decreased nuclear power generation capacities in Japan. If, I reiterate, our partners need this assistance.

Sergei Kiriyenko: Mr Putin, we are already talking with Gazprom.

Vladimir Putin: Good. You are familiar with the situation resulting from the fact that production and liquefaction are done together with foreign companies. We can find replacements. Think all of these aspects through. That is the first point.

Next. We must continue to carefully monitor the situation in the region on all fronts. I have just talked with the leaders of the Far Eastern regions of Russia. The situation there is normal, both in terms of evacuating people and in terms of background radiation. The governor of Sakhalin (Alexander Khoroshavin, governor of the Sakhalin Region) has reported to me that it is nominal everywhere, and in some areas even below the norm. Nevertheless, we must constantly monitor the situation and keep it under control 24 hours a day.

One more point. We must check once again the availability and readiness of all the manpower and resources allocated for such situations.

Mr Kiriyenko, what is your agency’s assessment of the current situation?

Sergei Kiriyenko: Mr Putin, we've set up a working group comprising industry experts and professionals from the institutes – the Kurchatov Institute, the Academy of Sciences – so that we can assess the situation immediately as data comes in, since the information we obtained initially was insufficient, and we constructed our own models.

In terms of assessing the situation, what has happened? Of course, our neighbours are faced with an extremely difficult set of circumstances. At 14:45 Tokyo time yesterday, on Friday, after the earthquake, 11 nuclear generating units stopped working. And it should be noted that automation continued to work normally, although the unit is old. The unit in question is the Fukushima Daiichi unit, which was built in 1971; it's 40 years old.

Vladimir Putin: This is a General Electric unit?

Sergei Kiriyenko: General Electric, yes. This unit was built in the United States, and it's 40 years old. The plant’s operator is Japanese company TEPCO. We know this company, we supply them with fissile materials for fuel and so on, and therefore, we know this company well. Their automatic systems continued to work normally, then the blocks shut down and the power was cut. Again, the emergency diesel generators continued to work as they were supposed to – they provided back-up power with the emergency diesel generators.

For them, the main objective was to ensure the flow of water. These are so-called boiling water reactors. Mr Putin, Russia has no such reactors, operating in a single mode: instead of two circuits, like at our stations, they have one circuit. It is essential to ensure water supply to cool the core. They were able to do this for one hour using the emergency diesel generators.

One hour later, the tsunami hit this location and damaged the cooling system working off the emergency diesel generators. The diesel generators stopped and the system switched to battery backup, plus they added additional emergency diesel generators. Nevertheless, they were not able to contain the situation because of the overall situation following the earthquake.

Therefore, at night, pressure began to build up in the shell – it's a shell-type reactor with closed containment (a shell). The pressure began to build up. They decided to release the steam, so the increase in background radiation around the station is due to the steam being released into the atmosphere, the steam from the boiling water cooling the reactor. Therefore, there was a build-up of pressure around the nuclear power station.

Next. At 15:32 Tokyo time, there was an explosion. We received their data. Mr Putin, we now have operational communications – we're getting data from the IAEA, directly from the Tokyo centre and the World Association of Nuclear Operators. We can compare information and construct a model. The data is identical. The Japanese data coincides with our own analysis, which we did earlier.

Vladimir Putin: Is it objective data?

Sergei Kiriyenko: Yes, it is objective data. This is not a nuclear reaction. This is not an explosion of the reactor vessel. Apparently, there was a hydrogen explosion. When the water level drops, the zirconium shell melts and hydrogen is produced in a reaction with the hot steam. Actually, this hydrogen goes out into the atmosphere with the steam. All it took was one spark to cause a hydrogen explosion.

The explosion did not occur in the reactor vessel or the containment, so the reactor vessel is by all accounts intact, according to the Japanese report, the IAEA, and our own analysis. Therefore, there is only radiation from the steam coming out of the reactor.

Today at 14:20 Moscow time, or 20:20 Tokyo time, they decided and got permission to pump seawater for cooling into the containment. The situation has begun to stabilise. The level of radioactivity around the station has fallen significantly – we watched it falling by the hour. It is already down 90% from the maximum level that they had when they made the decision to release steam.

Nevertheless, we need to monitor the situation. We are now constantly monitoring it. It has begun to stabilise, but still aftershocks near the station. Approximately 30 minutes ago there was another six-point earthquake. It should not have affected anything, but the situation should be monitored. The models that our experts made say that a nuclear reaction cannot and should not occur; however, cooling could take quite a long time. There are two more similar units nearby.

There are six units at the station. Three were in the repair – they were not in operation – and three were. The problem is still only with one unit, but the other two also need to be monitored closely. Therefore, we are making sure they are properly monitored.

Mr Putin, after you gave me the order over the phone, we contacted the Tokyo centre of the World Nuclear Association and TEPCO and told them that we were ready to provide them with any possible assistance.

It is currently a matter of exchanging information. But if they need anything we are ready to provide any necessary information.

Vladimir Putin: Clearly, this is different kind of reactor, and we don't have any like it. It is unlikely they will need our technical support. But in general, if they need something, then go ahead.

Sergei Kiriyenko: We are ready to assist at any time. We, of course, are also monitoring the situation because some of our companies are involved. We do not have nuclear power plants in the Far East, Mr Putin, but there are companies processing nuclear waste from the Russian Navy. We have monitoring and control systems in place there everywhere. We have a constant stream of data from all of these warning systems. They all confirm what the governors of the Far Eastern regions reported to you – the situation is completely stable, and there are no increases in any region.

Vladimir Putin: Mr Tsalikov, if you please.

Ruslan Tsalikov: Mr Putin, at 08:46 Moscow time yesterday, we received a signal. The early warning system for tsunamis was triggered at 8:47. I just want to say that this is the system that you tasked us to develop with Russian Hydro-meteorology and the Russian Academy of Sciences after the tsunami in Southeast Asia. We reported that the system was built, and yesterday it worked. At 8:47 we received a signal. At 08:52 Moscow time the alert was sent, and as soon as 09:40 the entire population was evacuated to a safe place – more than 11,300 people from four towns.

Consequently, our primary activity was related specifically to the safety of the Russian population in those areas that are at risk of a possible tsunami. Mission accomplished. After that, we did not call off the tsunami alert even during the day, since there were continuing aftershocks. And only when experts' calculations showed that there should not be any new tsunamis given the development of the situation at the time, we cancelled the public alarm, although we did keep the residents of 11 buildings located in the lowlands at their evacuation sites.

Another line of activity was providing assistance to the experts if necessary. There are two types of assistance. We have prepared a two-tiered response, including the Far East and federal resources here. The groups have been formed, properly equipped, including protective equipment, taking into account the situation that Mr Kiriyenko reported. But, naturally, there can only be a response when properly prompted as per a decision by the country's leadership.

And the third activity is monitoring the situation. Here, we are also working with our colleagues – Rosatom, the Russian Hydro-meteorology Committee, the Academy of Sciences and security forces, because it is related to notifying the public and so on. We are monitoring the situation.

Your request for manpower and resources is being fulfilled. I think today, at the end of the day, we will have a full picture of the situation.

Vladimir Putin: Mr Sechin, have our partners already requested increased supplies?

Igor Sechin: Yes, Mr Putin, taking into account the fact that the energy mix in Japan is around 30% nuclear, 17% gas and 22% coal and other sources. Of course, they will now have to replace damaged facilities.

They have already asked Gazprom to consider the possibility of increasing LNG supplies. We are currently working with Gazprom on this, and we are looking for ways to redirect two 100,000-tonne fuel tankers, which are currently performing other contracts to Japan. They could arrive in April and May. We could send up to 500,000 tonnes of liquefied natural gas this year, if requested by our Japanese partners. We could negotiate with our partners on the Sakhalin-2 project and resolve the issue fairly quickly.

We are willing to negotiate an increase in the supply of coal, because, as I said, coal occupies a fifth of Japan's energy balance – 22%. And next week, a delegation from SUEK will depart for Japan. Mechel is also ready to get involved, and we can quickly ramp up supplies by three to four million tonnes.

In addition, we are willing to consider longer-term cooperation in finding the infrastructure and network solutions – perhaps a sub-marine cable from Sakhalin to Japan. There is excess generating capacity in the Far East. You know, not long ago, a new power station was commissioned in the summer with you in attendance. So now we have the capacity to transfer more power to Japan. We are ready for this cooperation with our partners. Of course, this work will be more long-term and will need some investment. But we have the generating capacity itself and the capabilities are there, Mr Putin. We will negotiate and make such proposals.

Vladimir Putin: Japan is our neighbour. It is a friendly country. We know about the problems that we inherited from the past. But this is a long-term reliable partner. We should do everything to help Japan in this situation, of course, to the extent to which we are able to provide this assistance, and if our neighbours need our help. Of course, everything must be done in order to be fully prepared with plans for responding to situations of this kind. We have plans. We need more time to verify the availability and the abilities of our manpower and resources.