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VOA Interview: U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm

Nearly a year ago, US Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm led a US delegation to Kyiv to celebrate Ukraine's 30th anniversary of independence. About six months after Russia invaded Ukraine, Iuliia Iarmolenko of the VOA Ukraine Service spoke with Granholm about how Russia's war in Ukraine affected Europe's energy security. We discussed what can and can be done to stabilize the situation at the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant. US-Ukrainian cooperation in the energy sector has potential.

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

VOA: Director Granholm, thank you for this interview. Let's start with the situation at the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant. Did you know that during the first days of the war, Russian forces took control of Europe's largest nuclear power plant? Following recent reports of shelling, Ukraine is demanding demilitarized zones around factories and new sanctions against Russia for what President Zelensky called "nuclear blackmail." How worried are you about this situation? And what can the US do to stabilize it?

Granholm: First, agree to demilitarize. Military activities should not be conducted in the vicinity of nuclear power plants. Very dangerous. We are monitoring the situation very closely. There are sensors in the area that our scientists monitor. We strongly condemn what Russia has done. We want them to return control of the factory to the Ukrainians. A big thank you to the factory workers who are trying to keep operations running and complying with safety regulations. But we would like to have access to the International Atomic Energy Agency so that we can support safety, monitor it and make sure that the protocols for safety are in place. And you know, it hasn't happened yet. Therefore, we call on Russia to return control to the Ukrainians. And all military activity near factories should be stopped.

VOA: We talked a little bit about surveillance missions. What is a successful surveillance mission? Are you confident in your independence?

Granholm: We are confident that the information we are receiving through our monitors does not indicate an increase in radiation doses at this time. But our concern, of course, is whether military activity will continue around the factory. If the radiation dose increases, it will be a big problem. And I mean, Russia knows this — they've been in the nuclear business for a long time — they know what they're doing is reckless and irresponsible. Success is: The plant will be handed over to the Ukrainian authorities and will be continuously monitored to ensure that there are no signs of radioactive contamination.

VOA: Are there tools that the international community can use to withdraw Russian troops from factories? And who can be sure that Europe will not suffer another nuclear catastrophe if the power plants remain under Russian control?

Granholm: Clearly no one wants to see that happen. That is, there will be fallout that can also damage Russia. So they need to understand how serious this is. The United States clearly supports Ukraine very strongly and will continue to do so. We support demilitarization. Of course, President Biden says there are no US troops on the ground, but we will continue to support Ukraine through our allies and with our own resources.

VOA: Even before all-out war, experts warned of Russian energy weaponization...

Granholm: yes.

VOA: …and they were calling on European leaders to diversify their energy sources to reduce Russia's energy dependence. Europe is currently preparing for a very difficult winter. Do you think European countries can import enough gas from other sources, including the US, to make up the shortfall?

Granholm: First of all, I think they need to have a multifaceted strategy. Diversification of fuel sources is one of them. So, not only are we diversifying where we get our fuel from, but we are also diversifying into clean energy to decarbonize the grid, run cleaner deployments, and reduce energy use. and they. We are working on all these strategies. The US, of course, has promised to send more liquefied natural gas. We are working with people in Europe on a number of technologies that will allow us to reduce our energy usage and generate clean energy. But honestly, this aggression by Russia is such an example of why countries need to stay away from fuel volatility from countries that have no interest in us. and from the volatility of fossil fuels. If you want to be energy secure and energy independent, that means you have to produce your own energy. My counterpart, the Irish Minister of Energy, says no one has weaponized access to the sun. No one has ever used the wind as a weapon. The transition to clean energy will likely be the greatest peace plan the world has ever seen.

VOA: That means more production in the short term and a shift to renewable energy in the long term.

Granholm: Yes, yes. Unfortunately, this is exemplified when looking at how fuel prices are skyrocketing in Europe. Apparently, the invasion lost millions of barrels of Russian oil exports, in addition to natural gas. As a result, prices around the world have risen. Now our president and others are asking us to increase production now so that we can ease the price on consumer gas pumps. And this president is definitely concerned about how that will affect real people, inflation, etc. But in the end you have to migrate cleanly. That is the bill the President signed into law yesterday, and for the United States, it is the greatest commitment of any country in the world to combat climate change. This is the largest bill ever passed in the United States to combat climate change. Therefore, it is very important for energy security. And I know our European allies are trying to do the same.

VOA: Will it be a harsh winter for Europe?

Granholm: I think so.

VOA: How confident are you that European nations will not bow to Russian energy pressure and that sanctions against Russia will not be eased soon after they begin to take effect? do you have.

Granholm: I think the allies, the NATO allies and the Europeans are very powerful in understanding what this aggression by Russia has done to them. It means that we must wean ourselves from Russian fuel, or generic fuel that comes from countries that do not share our values. So I think we are united. It's hard. There is no doubt that it will be an expensive winter. I know that European leaders are looking for ways to alleviate the suffering of real people from these price increases. But ultimately, I know they are determined to move away from Russian fuels and into clean energy.

VOA Ukrainian Service's Iuliia Iarmolenko speaks with U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, who says that "if we want to be energy secure and energy independent, that means we've got to produce our own energy."
VOA Ukraine Her Service Iuliia Iarmolenko, U.S. Energy Secretary Talk to her Jennifer Granholm. “If we want to be energy secure and energy independent, that means we have to produce our own energy,” she says.

VOA: No way back…

Granholm: No way back.

VOA: …and Nord Stream 2 will never update that feature.

Granholm: All the leaders I have spoken to, my counterparts in the EU, are determined not to repeat the mistakes of the past.

VOA: And of course, Ukraine is looking to secure natural gas imports to heat Ukrainian homes this winter. One of the ideas she said Ukrainian leaders have proposed to Washington is called the -Gas Lend Lease. So they say they are asking the US to deliver her LNG via Europe, which Ukraine will later repay. Do you have any comments on such thoughts? And are there other ways the US and its allies can help Ukraine secure its needs this winter?

Granholm: Yes, this is a very important question of how to increase supplies to help relieve pressure. Right now, as far as the terminals that we have, we're liquefying every molecule of natural gas out there in the terminals that we have. they are at full capacity. As you know, from an infrastructure perspective, it takes time to add. I know Norway is increasing its commitments as well. I know that investigations with other countries can be increased. Because whether it's for Ukraine or not, I know that Ukraine is also looking at diversification and decarbonisation, and the deployment of clean energy. All of that has to happen. Of course, it is much more difficult for Ukraine now in the midst of this crisis. That's why I think all ideas should be considered. Regarding the lend-lease question, I don't have an answer for you.But I know it's a game for this administration to consider what it can do to ease the pain in Ukraine.

VOA: Where do you see the future of US-Ukraine cooperation in the energy sector? Will it focus more on renewable energy or something else?

Granholm: It's hard to say at this point. Because one of the conversations we've had is small modular nuclear reactors. But given what is happening in Zaporizhia, there may be concerns about it. I believe we must end this conflict before we can make a decision on nuclear power, but we can definitely work together. And we work clean together. And I had a lot of conversations with my counterpart in Ukraine, Minister of Energy Herman Halshchenko. They definitely want to go in this direction. There are also other types of technology that they are very interested in. For example, like clean hydrogen, offshore wind if offshore components are available. There's obviously a lot — solar is obvious, batteries for energy storage, batteries for renewable energy storage, a lot of the technologies we've been talking about — and it's over once this conflict is over. We look forward to continued cooperation in the energy sector so that Ukraine ends up independent and safe.

VOA: A year ago you led the US delegation to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Ukraine's independence. August 24th of this year marks six months since Russia began its full-scale invasion. Six months later, what are your main takeaways regarding the Western response to this war? Do you think there are some lessons that world leaders should learn?

Granholm: First of all, I am still blown away by the beauty of Ukraine. At the celebration, there was a parade where President Zelensky had young girls walk through the streets of Kyiv, stopping at each point in history - it was so beautiful. There was no dry eye at the observatory. It just made me, it made me… it did. I'm not Ukrainian, but I was very proud of Ukraine and its fierce sense of independence and identity and fierce independence. I was there for the Crimea summit and the 30th anniversary. Six months later, I never thought that such a terrible thing would happen. And yes, I think there is a lesson. So one of the biggest lessons for the world is, first of all, that Russia's intentions are clear. But it is also clear that NATO and its allies must remain strong to defend those who want to defend their freedom. I'm afraid Russia sees this as a division of the world. that's what they do. That's not what everyone wants to see. But it was created. Fortunately, there are many more countries who support Ukraine and feel compelled to stand together when their allies' sovereignty is under attack. That's the best. Second, because I am the Energy Secretary, I think it says a lot about how much and how quickly we must move toward clean energy energy security.

VOA: Chief Granholm, is there anything you would like the people of Ukraine to know? Some people have very harsh winters. They have already experienced many difficulties. As Secretary of Energy, is there anything you would like them to know from the United States?

Granholm: I want them to know that the United States stands very strongly for Ukraine. For example, we have been working on synchronizing with the European grid and will continue to do so — monitor what can be done to ensure that the Zaporizhia power plant and its surrounding areas and the surrounding citizens are safe. and guarantee. Whether or not Ukraine feels it has the necessary resources to advance its defenses, it is safe. And we will never turn our backs on Ukraine, because this is a lasting friendship.

VOA: Thank you very much.

Granholm: Thank you.