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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Reactors Safe, Officials Say

Responding to a report that listed 20,000 security violations in 1993, a Russian nuclear energy official insisted Friday that Russia's nuclear power plants are getting safer by the year.

Boris Antonov, vice president of the Rusenergoatom government body that manages Russia's largest 29 nuclear power plants, told a press conference that the number of accidents at the plants had dropped in 1993 to 28 from 40 in 1992. The number of violations of safety procedures fell to 154 from 199, of which 29 were labeled "serious."

With a barrage of data showing that the number of incidents at nuclear power plants had been going down since 1987, illustrated in colorful graphics on an overhead projector, Antonov tried to counter the damage done to his agency's image by a recent report from the nuclear safety oversight committee.

This committee revealed 20,000 security violations in the nuclear industry when it inspected 5,500 of Russia's 14,500 enterprises involved in production of nuclear power.

The report, presented earlier this month, also reported that 9 percent of the 5,000 workers quizzed at these enterprises had flunked safety tests, while 232 plant managers were reprimanded.

Antonov did not dispute the findings but said they gave a misleading picture of the 29 largest power plants. With 27 shutdowns for safety in 1993, which Antonov called the most reliable indicator of the safety record, the average number of shutdowns per power plant dropped to 0.79, down from 1.1 in 1992.

In the United States, the average power plant was shut down 1.1 times in 1992, in England 2.4 times and in India 5.5 times, Antonov said.

But Vladimir Kuznetsov, a former head of the nuclear safety oversight committee who was fired when he insisted that some of Russia's nuclear power plants be closed down, called Antonov's report "pure advertising."

"How can they say that our power plants are getting less dangerous?" Kuznetsov said. "The incidents may be fewer but they are more serious."

Kuznetsov said the number of safety shutdowns of nuclear power plants in Russia is at par with the West mainly because plant managers are less likely to order a shutdown during incidents.

Antonov warned that the safety of Russia's nuclear power plants could be put at risk if over 380 billion rubles ($243 million) in overdue payments to power plants were not made soon. Three plants had already reduced capacity for lack of nuclear fuel, because they lacked the funds to pay for fuel deliveries, Antonov said.