Shifting from Russia, Ukraine strikes US nuclear fuel deal

Aug 04, 2016 12:00 AM

Ukraine said Thursday it had reached an agreement with the US-based electric giant Westinghouse to build a nuclear fuel production unit that would help reduce its reliance on Russia.

The former Soviet republic has been trying to sever all forms of dependence on its giant eastern neighbour since a bloody February 2014 pro-EU revolution drove the disdained Kremlin-backed president into self-imposed exile in Russia.

The Kremlin's subsequent annexation of Crimea and a pro-Moscow revolt in eastern Ukraine that has claimed more than 9,500 lives over 27 months has only further spurred Kiev's drive to build up its ties with the West.

About half of Ukraine's energy is produced by nuclear power stations that still operate in the wake of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster that left thousands dead or dying.

But 95 percent of the fuel for those plants comes from Russia -- a dependence that Energy Minister Igor Nasalyk vowed to break.

Nasalyk told reporters that his June visit to the United States had produced an agreement for Westinghouse's Swedish nuclear production factory to build its own plant in Ukraine at an undisclosed future date.

"We have agreed to diversify our sources of fuel delivery to nearly half of our nuclear blocks," Nasalyk said.

"And we agreed (for Westinghouse Electric Sweden) to construct a nuclear fuel production facility on the territory of Ukraine," he added.

Russia has repeatedly argued that the US fuel was unsafe for nuclear stations that were built in Ukraine by the Soviet Union under its own guidelines and standards.

But Ukraine began to develop relations with Westinghouse in 2000 and reached its first commercial supply contract with its Swedish unit in 2008.

A new six-year delivery deal was signed in 2014 after Kiev's break in ties with Moscow -- a decision that still further angered the Kremlin as it tries to expand its nuclear capacities across the world.

Ukraine has four nuclear power stations and 15 production blocks.

Westinghouse Electric Sweden chief executive Aziz Dag told the Interfax-Ukraine news agency that the new delivery deal will cover six of Ukraine's nuclear power units.

Ukraine's announcement came after Westinghouse -- a company formed in 1999 and majority-owned by Japan's Toshiba -- said in April that it was expanding its Swedish nuclear fuel factory in Vasteras in order to broaden its presence in Europe.

Ten percent of Westinghouse is also owned by Kazakstan's state-owned uranium import and export firm.

Nasalyk said that he would travel to that Central Asian country later this month to discuss the possibility of Kazakhstan also building a nuclear fuel production plant in Ukraine.

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