Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin attended the launch of a new nuclear power reactor Monday, calling it part of a "renaissance" of atomic energy.
The new 1,000 megawatt reactor is the fourth unit at the Kalininskaya nuclear power plant in Udomlya, some 300 kilometers (about 180 miles) north of Moscow. Construction began before the Soviet Union's collapse in 1991 and was restarted in 2007.
"Nuclear energy is on the rise. There's a rebirth, a renaissance, of the nuclear sphere taking place right now," said Putin, who was making his first public appearance after massive protests against election fraud on Saturday that challenged his rule. He avoided any mention of the rallies.
Putin, who served as president in 2000-2008 and is running to reclaim presidency in next March's election, has approved an ambitious plan to expand the nation's nuclear energy industry over the next 20 years.
Speaking alongside Putin, Sergei Kiriyenko, the chief of the state-controlled Rosatom nuclear power corporation, said that by 2030 it wants to build 38 reactors in Russia and 28 abroad, mainly in Europe and Asia.
In recent years, Russia has overcome a public backlash against nuclear power that followed the April 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster in then-Soviet Ukraine, and the government has strongly supported efforts to revive the nuclear sector.
Nuclear power currently accounts for 17 percent of Russia's overall energy output, and the country's leadership hopes to increase this to up to 25 percent over the next two decades.
Putin has described the plan as an opportunity to develop the high-tech industries, easing the country's heavy reliance on oil and natural gas exports.
Earlier this year Atomstroiexport, a Rosatom subsidiary, launched Iran's first nuclear reactor in Bushehr, and is expected to start new reactors in India next year.
Russian officials have insisted that the deal with Iran is in line with international agreements and will oblige Tehran to ship all the spent fuel from the plant back to Russia for reprocessing to avoid a possibility of it being used in a covert weapons program.
Still, many in the West have seen the Bushehr plant's launch as an unfortunate signal to Tehran as U.S. and its allies strive to raise pressure on Iran to force it to abandon its uranium enrichment program.