"The Russians do know how to get things working, like they did in the space field," says Henry Sokolski of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center, which presses lawmakers to take a closer look at the global spread of nuclear technology. "But sociologically and historically they have a lot working against them when it comes to quality assurance." Rosatom counters that they have independent oversight, a separate body in the government that answers to the prime minister on industrial safety, and that their models meet all International Atomic Energy Agency safety standards. (The IAEA encourages standards and guidelines but does not monitor compliance.)
The first Russian core-catcher was placed under China's Tianwan Nuclear Power Plant in 2007. Earlier this summer I looked into the pit of what will soon be the reactor vessel of one of two new VVER 1200-megawatt reactors under construction in Novovoronezh in southern Russia but couldn't see the core-catcher—it was already buried 4.45 meters below.
If Russia is successful in selling their post-Chernobyl nuclear technology, their core-catcher technology will be a key part of what's standing between their customers and another Chernobyl-like disaster. Whether it works in a real-life scenario remains an unanswered question. To use Bolshov's observation, we've had enough nuclear "nightmares" by now.
Eve Conant traveled to Russia on a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.