The Ukraine war could lead to breakthroughs in nuclear power and natural gas, with Washington’s help.
June 15, 2022
CERNAVODA, Romania — A row of hulking concrete domes loom along the Danube-Black Sea Canal in Cernavoda, about two hours east of Bucharest. Two of the structures house nuclear reactors feeding Romania’s electrical grid. Two others were begun decades ago and are still waiting for completion — though, perhaps, not for long.
“We have major plans,” said Valentin Nae, the site director.
The nuclear complex was conceived during the regime of Nicolae Ceausescu, the Communist dictator who ran Romania for a quarter century before he was overthrown and executed in 1989. Mr. Ceausescu’s strategy was to insulate Romania from the influence of the Soviet Union by having it generate its own electricity.
More than 30 years on, as much of Europe looks to cut ties to Russia’s energy, Romania is benefiting from Mr. Ceausescu’s thinking. The two reactors very cheaply supply about 20 percent of Romania’s electricity.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which shares a nearly 400-mile border with Romania, has strengthened Romania’s push for energy independence. Its ambitious energy plans include completing two of the Cernavoda plants and leading the way into a new type of nuclear technology called small modular reactors. It also wants to take full advantage of substantial offshore gas fields in the deep waters of the Black Sea.
Some see Romania, a nation of 21 million roughly the size of Oregon, as having the potential to become a regional energy powerhouse that could help wean neighbors in eastern and southern Europe from dependence on Moscow. It is a goal shared in Washington and among some investors, who see business and strategic opportunities in a corner of the world that has flared hot in recent months.