US provides energy aid to Ukraine

Mar 21, 2007 01:00 AM

by Elisabeth Sewall

As Ukraine searches for ways to break its heavy dependence on Russian energy imports, the country’s nuclear industry is getting some assistance from the US.
Ukraine is fully dependent on Russia for nuclear fuel to power its 15 reactors, which produce half of the country’s electricity. But through its participation in the joint US-Ukraine Nuclear Fuel Qualification Project (UNFQP), which is administered by the US Department of Energy, Ukraine is about to start diversifying its sources of nuclear fuel.

US Department of Energy Deputy Secretary Clay Sell met with top Ukrainian officials and US business leaders in Kyiv March 15 to discuss the project.
“The United States and Ukraine are helping to advance energy security through cooperation in projects like the [UNFQP] that encourage the diversity of energy supplies and suppliers,” Sell said in Kyiv. “To ensure a path of economic growth, we must promote policies that encourage open and transparent market principles, increase energy efficiency, and further cooperation in nuclear non-proliferation,” Sell continued.

The US pledged to invest $ 14 mm toward the manufacturing of nuclear fuel assemblies by Westinghouse Electric Company, a major American nuclear technologies company that boasts a clientele base of nearly 50 % of the world’s nuclear power plants. Westinghouse’s nuclear fuel assemblies would qualify as an alternative nuclear fuel source in Ukraine and account for one-fourth of the fuel that powers a reactor for up to four years of operation.
Ukraine will receive 42 nuclear fuel assemblies to be used at its Pivdenniy Nuclear Power Plant, the biggest of the country’s four nuclear power plants.

For its part, Ukraine is committed to providing approximately $ 42 mm in low-enriched uranium, which will be used to manufacture the fuel assemblies, and funding for technical services.
Leading up to the US-Ukrainian deal, Westinghouse supplied the Pivdenniy Nuclear Power Plant with six nuclear fuel cartridges in2003 for experimental use. A total of $ 52 mm has already been invested into the project by the US government since 2000 as part of the US Department of Energy’s International Safety Program, which provides technical assistance and technology to former Soviet republics to improve the safety of their reactors.

Ukraine has modest recoverable resources of uranium, and produces up to 800 tons of uranium per year, around 30 % of the country’s requirements. But it lacks the technology to enrich it, so Ukrainian uranium concentrate and zirconium alloy are sent to Russia for fuel fabrication and then returned to Ukrainian plants. The country depends primarily on Russia to provide other nuclear fuel-cycle services also.
In addition, Ukraine is heavily dependent on Russia for natural gas, the price of which doubled in 2006 only to go up by another third at the beginning of this year. Russia has been accused by Ukraine, as well as Belarus and the EU, of using its significant energy resources as an instrument of geopolitical power.

To make itself less vulnerable, Ukraine has come up with a strategy that envisages greater reliance on domestic coal and nuclear power stations, according to Yuri Kubrushko, general director at IME power consulting company.
“But it’s not possible to achieve full independence [from Russian energy imports],” he said. “Right now Ukraine has quite a developed power sector and infrastructure, but its power stations also require quite significant renovation,” Kubrushko added. He said the government would make it a priority in the next five or six years to upgrade and rehabilitate Ukraine’s power stations. But, the nuclear sector is prohibited from privatization or large private sector involvement.

Ukraine is today a net exporter of power. To increase its position on the power export market and fill rising domestic demand, it is important for investment to start soon, because in the power sector it takes several years to do full-scale renovation, Kubrushko said.
In 2004, Ukraine commissioned two large new reactors. The government plans to build up to 11 new reactors by 2030.

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