The Soviet Union was blessed with abundant energy resources. Self-sufficient in natural gas, oil, and coal, it used these fossil fuels to power its industries. According to Western estimates, it possessed 40 percent of world reserves of natural gas (52 trillion cu m/1836 trillion cu ft), and some 6 percent of world reserves of crude oil (58 billion barrels). It possessed an estimated 240 billion metric tons of coal. Natural gas production constituted about 40 percent of world output, oil production about 20 percent, and coal production about 15 percent. Soviet energy production was predominantly in natural gas (38 percent) and oil (36 percent). Coal, the primary fuel until about 1970, accounted for 20 percent of Soviet energy production in 1989, and hydroelectric generation accounted for 3 percent. The nuclear power program, the third largest in the world, covered 3 percent of Soviet energy needs and 13 percent of total electricity generation. Sixteen percent of all domestic energy production was exported.
Most of the Soviet Union's energy resources, or 90 percent, were located in the RSFSR, mainly in Siberia. The most bounteous reserves were in the Samotlar oil fields, the Tyumen’, Urengoy, and Yamal gas fields, and the Kuznetsk Basin coal pits, all in western Siberia, and the Sakhalin oil and gas fields in the Russian Far East. Oil was found in significant volume in Ukraine, Azerbaijan, and Turkmenistan, and coal was primarily located in Ukraine and Kazakhstan.
The USSR’s energy wealth did not make this a trouble-free sector. Energy was so cheaply priced that few efforts were made to conserve it in industry, which absorbed three-quarters of output, or other areas. Energy used per unit of GNP was thus 2.5 times higher than in the Western market economies, and there was no trend toward more efficient consumption. The placement of so many oil and natural gas reserves in remote areas east of the Urals necessitated colossal outlays of capital, especially in the construction of pipelines, to transport them to major industrial centers.
Investment in energy production escalated from 30 percent to 40 percent of all industrial investment in the 1980s. The country had 90,000 km (56,000 mi) of oil pipeline and 215,000 km (134,000 mi) of gas pipeline, but maintenance was poor and expansion of the network was held back by bottlenecks in production of compressors and other components.
Because of a preference for centralized grids for distribution of heat and hot water in the cities, most electricity was generated at fossil fuel-fired thermal stations that threw off large amounts of air pollution. Nuclear power, seen by many as a clean alternative to the thermal plants, expanded quickly in the 1970s and 1980s. The reactor meltdown at the Chernobyl’ nuclear power station in the Ukrainian republic in April 1986—the world’s worst known reactor disaster—highlighted safety problems with the program. Many Soviet reactors lacked adequate safeguards to protect the public in such an event. "USSR" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia.
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