Ukraine nuclear fuel plant to boost energy security

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Russia and Ukraine began yesterday (4 October) the construction on a nuclear fuel plant. Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov said the plant will contribute to the country’s energy independence and experts commented that the new facility was good news for East European countries with Russia-built nuclear reactors.  

A major producer of uranium, Ukraine has in the past bought processed nuclear fuel from Russia and the United States.

The plant, near the Ukrainian town of Smolino, some 300 kilometres south-east of the capital Kiev, will provide to the country by 2020 with all of its nuclear fuel needs, Azarov said at the ceremony of turning the first sod. Ukraine has 15 nuclear reactors in operation and plans to complete two more, at the Hmelnitski nuclear central, by 2015.

"Today we have begun the most substantial project towards energy independence in the history of independent Ukraine," Azarov reportedly said. A Russo-Ukrainian joint venture will operate the plant, which has a price tag of $462 million (€355 million), and in which Ukraine holds the golden share.

Azarov said that the project “opened a new page” in Ukraine-Russian relations in the nuclear energy field. He added that the installation “will be completely safe” ecologically.

In spite of the Chernobyl accident of 1986, the worst in the history of mankind, Ukraine remains committed to developing its nuclear sector. Around half of Ukraine’s electricity is produced by nuclear centrals and the country has the potential to be an important electricity exporter.

Sergei Kondratiev from the Russian “Institute for Energy and Finance”, quoted by the Russian information agency Regnum, called the nuclear energy fuel plant in Ukraine “one of the biggest and most important cooperation projects in the post-Soviet space”, and “an important precedent”.

Kondratiev said that without any doubt, the plant was not designed only to supply Ukraine.

“This is good news for East European countries, who until now have been clients of Rosatom,” he said, referring to the Russian nuclear energy state corporation.

Russia-built centrals operate in Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary. Reactors with Russian technology also operate in Finland.

Kondratiev said it was difficult to predict if and how the new Ukraine plant would impact on prices for nuclear fuel, but said that the project would reassure East Europeans that Rosatom has no intention of monopolising production, and that it was ready to share its technologies.

The Russian expert also appeared to take aim at Westinghouse, saying that the US company has refused to share its technology with Ukraine. Last year, Ukraine indicated it was interested in building a second nuclear fuel plant, with the US firm Westinghouse as a partner.

Russia had warned that using Westinghouse fuel in Russian-built centrals was hazardous

Background

Support for nuclear power in Ukraine persists, despite the 1986 Chernobyl disaster whose effects are still being felt. Giving up nuclear energy is "not an option for Ukraine," the country's Deputy Economy Minister Valery Piatnitsky recently told EURACTIV in an exclusive interview.

Nuclear power supplies almost half of Ukraine's electricity production. The country's four nuclear power plants are Khmelnytsky near Netishin with two reactors, Rine near Kuznetsovsk with four reactors, Yujnoukrainsk in South Ukraine with three reactors and Zaporizhia, near Enerhodar with six reactors.

Ukraine is one of Europe's largest energy consumers, using twice as much energy per unit of GDP as Germany. The country produces an excess of power and exports what it doesn't use itself.

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