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Ukraine gives green light for upgraded nuclear fuel supplies from Westinghouse

September 24, 2014, 15:42 UTC+3 KIEV
The fuel will be delivered to the South-Ukrainian NPP in December and uploaded into the third power unit of the plant in late December or early January
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© ITAR-TASS/Alexey Ivanov/Archive

KIEV, September 24. /ITAR-TASS/. Ukraine has approved supplies of upgraded nuclear fuel from the US company Westinghouse for its nuclear power plants (NPP) and expects the first delivery by the end of the year, a senior official with the national nuclear service said on Wednesday.

Mikhail Gashev, the first deputy chairman of the State Inspection of Nuclear Regulations, said that on September 17 he signed three fundamental documents regarding supplies of upgraded nuclear fuel TBC-WR.

“The first one is the affirmative evaluation on the upgraded fuel from Westinghouse. The second - is the expert findings. The third is the permit for shipment of Westinghouse’s upgraded nuclear fuel to Ukraine,” Gashev said.

According to Gashev “the fuel will be delivered to the South-Ukrainian NPP in December and uploaded into the third power unit of the plant in late December or early January.”

“However, supplies of Russian fuel for Ukrainian nuclear power plants did not cease and were delivered in line with the schedule,” Yury Nedashkovsky, the head of Ukraine’s national nuclear power company Energoatom, said.

He said this year 10 nuclear fuel deliveries were supplied to Ukraine from Russia adding that “we expect two more in November and hope that there would be no ‘force majeure’ and all deliveries would be completed.”

Westinghouse and Energoatom

Nedashkovsky said in April that the cost of the upgraded nuclear fuel purchases from Westinghouse would be covered by revenues collected from sales of electricity generated by four active nuclear power plants in Ukraine.

He also said that an experimental batch of the new-formula nuclear fuel, produced at the US company’s plant in the Swedish city of Vasteras, successfully passed all the necessary tests in April.

Westinghouse and Energoatom have been cooperating on nuclear fuel supplies since 2000 and in April both companies extended a contract on supplies for Ukrainian nuclear power plants until 2020.

Energoatom and Westinghouse initially launched a project for diversifying nuclear fuel supplies in a bid to reduce Ukraine’s energy dependence on neighboring Russia.

Russia’s manufacturer of nuclear fuel, TVEL, was formerly the major fuel supplier for Ukrainian nuclear power plants.

Commenting on Ukraine’s decision to switch to supplies of nuclear fuel from the US company, Sergey Kiriyenko, the head of Russian state-run nuclear corporation Rosatom, said in April that Russia positively took all competitive rivalry, but hoped that the decision had not made out of political reasons or it could pose a safety threat.

"Only one aspect is important: that the nuclear industry has absolute security priority,” Kiriyenko said. “If the nuclear industry begins to make decisions for political reasons, this already poses a threat.,” Kiriyenko said in April and voiced the same opinion two days ago addressing the 58th General Conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Austria’s Vienna.

The world’s worst nuclear accident happened in 1986 in Ukraine, at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. The explosion there and ensuing fallout from the critical nuclear meltdown contaminated vast areas in the then-Soviet republics of Ukraine, Belarus and Russia.

Sergei Kondratyev, a senior expert with the Russian Institute for Energy and Finance, voiced concern over the sharp switch from Russian-to US-produced nuclear fuel as it could pose a threat to the safety of Ukrainian nuclear power plants, which were built in the Soviet Union era.

In an interview with ITAR-TASS Kondratyev said that Ukraine’s decision to switch to the US-produced upgraded nuclear fuel did not take into account technical characteristics and peculiarities of the Soviet-built NPPs.

“The current management of Ukraine’s Energoatom sets the main task to significantly reduce fuel purchases from Russia and switch to the US fuel,” he said. “However, such sharp alternation of nuclear fuel use could result in safety drop at the exploited nuclear power plants and this is definitely unacceptable.”

Westinghouse’s European ambitions

Westinghouse’s gain of the Ukrainian market may be seemed as another victory of the US company in its bid to conquer the European market of nuclear fuel consumption, which heavily rely on Russian supplies.

Last month The Financial Times daily reported that Westinghouse was pressing the European Union to introduce competition rules on the nuclear fuel market with the aim of reducing Europe’s dependency on the Russian fuel supplies.

The world’s biggest supplier of nuclear fuel argued that with Europe’s vulnerability to Russian natural gas supplies in view of the ongoing crisis in Ukraine Brussels needed to assess risks concerning the Russian nuclear fuel supplies to Eastern Europe.

According to Westinghouse, Russia makes up for 36% of the entire EU’s uranium enrichment needs and many reactors in Eastern Europe depend entirely on sets of fuel rods from Russia.

Finland is one of the European states depending heavily on supplies of Russian nuclear fuel, while Hungary, Slovakia, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic are entirely dependent on the Russian deliveries.

The daily reported that, according to Westinghouse “the EU’s weak spot lies in Russian VVER reactors across the former communist bloc and Finland, for which the Russian company TVEL is the only supplier.”

Westinghouse presses the EU for diversification in the Eastern Europe, since the US-based company is the only alternative for supplies of nuclear fuel for VVER-440 reactors.

The company said it needed an investment of $20 million to reprise the nuclear fuel production for the VVER-440 reactors, however, the work would take up to two years.

 

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