Russia Takes Up Some China BRI Funding Projects To Move ASEAN Energy Generation Forward

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Russian nuclear energy technologies helping to power Myanmar rail with potential for other ASEAN and Asian countries to follow suit  

By Chris Devonshire-Ellis

Russia and Myanmar have signed an intergovernmental agreement on cooperation in the nuclear sector that envisages the creation of a low-capacity nuclear power plant, the Rosatom state corporation has stated. “Under the agreement, the parties will work together on implementing the low-power nuclear power plant project on the territory of Myanmar,” the report said.

Myanmar has been discussing with Rostacom the construction of a lithium-ion accumulator production facility and the possibility of building small wind farms, hydropower plants and thermal power stations in the country. Rosatom and Myanmar signed a roadmap for cooperation in 2022-2023 in September 2022. In November, the parties reached an agreement under a memorandum of understanding on a joint feasibility study for a project to build a low-power nuclear power plant in the country.

The move is significant as it is another indicator that other countries are beginning to take up the financial responsibility for what would otherwise have been Chinese BRI loans and investments. The timing is useful as Chinese current lending to BRI projects is taking a breather as a variety of projects has been financially negatively impacted by Covid, leading to debt-restructuring being needed.

Project completion delays have meant that cash-flow generation expectations have not been met on time and additional financing beyond the original loan required, an issue that has impacted several billion dollars of Chinese loans across the BRI and which will take time to resolve. However, that doesn’t mean China’s BRI spending has completely slowed – Beijing invested US$32.5 billion in BRI projects in 2022, its highest level since 2019.

Another example of other nations stepping in to take on BRI projects is Turkiye, which is looking at becoming involved in a US$2.2 billion Ugandan rail project.

In terms of Myanmar, the country lacks energy generation facilities and needs to industrialize to boost its manufacturing productivity. Russia is a major nuclear power development manager and has built NPPs around the world. It is considered a pioneer in building small lithium-ion nuclear plants and is ahead of the US and UK in building and developing this type of plant.

The Myanmar energy facility is intended to provide electricity for the national rail network, which currently operates on diesel engines. This technology may also be used on additional ASEAN rail projects, with railways in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam all still largely using diesel while electrifying track is a greener and less expensive option.

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