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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Blackouts Feared as Petersburg Nuclear Plant Reduces Output

A nuclear power plant near St. Petersburg is reducing output to protest consumer debts, officials said Friday, prompting grave warnings of blackouts and rationed electricity as winter arrives.

The four-reactor power plant at Sosnovy Bor, the main electricity provider to northwest Russia, reduced output from three of its four nuclear reactors by 30 percent this week, said Konstantin Ramburger, spokesman for state-run Rosenergoatom, which operates nuclear plants.

The fourth reactor was already off-line, undergoing repairs.

Rosenergoatom said running the plant at reduced levels will not pose any danger. Environmental groups have said the reactors are less stable when run at lower power.

The Sosnovy Bor plant uses Soviet-designed RBMK-1000 reactors of the same type that malfunctioned at Chernobyl in 1986 in the world’s worst nuclear disaster. The plant has been the target of protests because of its proximity to St. Petersburg.

Ramburger said the Sosnovy Bor plant is owed 2 billion rubles ($72 million) by Unified Energy Systems. The country’s eight other nuclear power plants are also owed huge debts, and Ramburger said they will also reduce output if UES does not pay up soon.

UES runs Russia’s vast power grid and has chronic problems collecting bills from consumers.

UES spokesman Yury Melikhov said the company was doing everything it could to pay Sosnovy Bor and warned that cutting the reactors’ output could lead to blackouts and electricity rationing.

Already much of Russia is suffering blackouts and energy shortages with the advancing cold weather.