ST PETERSBURG, Russia (Reuters) - Russian state nuclear firm Rosatom is not afraid of competition from new nuclear players China and South Korea, Rosatom's head said on Thursday, even though Russia is battling those countries for major projects in South Africa and elsewhere.
Alexei Likhachyov, Rosatom chief executive, also said at an economic forum in St Petersburg that nuclear energy could help drive closer economic cooperation between Russia and firms from Europe and Japan.
"With the challenges linked to the increasing share and role of nuclear energy in world power generation, there could be not enough competition as of today," Likhachyov told the forum.
He added the world nuclear industry was losing out from the fact that Japan and Germany had stepped back as major players.
Following the 2011 nuclear disaster in Fukushima, Germany decided to phase out nuclear energy by 2022 and Japan has restarted only four of its 42 reactors.
But he added that new players and new markets would boost the nuclear industry.
"It is absolutely understandable why new players have arrived, and Korea and China are indicative in that respect. We work with both countries and don't see here fundamental threats," he said.
The two leading Western reactor makers - French Areva AREVA.PA and Japanese-owned Westinghouse (6502.T) - have been hit by delays and cost overruns at reactor-building projects, but South Korea's KEPCO (015760.KS) and Chinese firms such as CGN and SNPTC are formidable new competitors for Rosatom.
All major reactor makers are eagerly awaiting a tender from South Africa to build up to 10 reactors in what would be one of the world's biggest nuclear projects since the Fukushima disaster.
"We always rate our chances as very high, but everything will be decided by the government of South Africa," Likhachyov said in response to a question from Reuters at the forum.
Rosatom has a global order book of more than $100 billion - bigger than all its Western competitors combined - but some of those orders are not seen as realistic and the company has a reputation for being used by Moscow as a means to achieve political ends.
Likhachyov, a former Russian deputy economy minister, was appointed to head Rosatom last year after the previous chief executive took up a senior position in Russia's presidential administration.
He has promised to turn the state firm around by making it earn money independently of the Russian government and to increase its global market share.
"We are on the threshold of the fourth industrial paradigm, another revolution," Likhachyov said on Thursday. "Atomic energy more than anything else fits the role of moderator in this process."
(This story corrects to read senior, not head, position, paragraph 12)
Writing by Alexander Winning and Geert De Clercq; Editing by Dale Hudson