Japanese seek confidence of uranium supply

13 April 2007

Japanese officials are holding high-level meetings with their Russian and Kazakhstani counterparts with the aim of securing stable uranium supplies.

The country's 55 reactors generate 29% of its electricity and consume products based on about 8900 tonnes of uranium each year, all of which must be imported.

As regional nuclear leaders gathered in Aomori for the 40th Annual Conference of the Japan Atomic Industry Forum, a high-level Russian delegation toured Japan. Led by the head of the Federal Atomic Energy Agency (Rosatom), Sergei Kiriyenko, the delegation comprised leaders from Technabexport, VNIIAES, AtomStroyExport, Atomenergomash and the Ural Electrochemical Integrated Plant.

On 11 April, Kiriyenko's cohort met with officials of the Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) including the minster, Akira Amari, and his director of natural resources and energy, Harufumi Mochizuki. High on the agenda would have been a nuclear cooperation agreement to make possible direct contracts between companies in each country. Presently business has to be conducted through third parties such as France, the UK or the USA because of international norms on the safeguards of nuclear materials.

The next day, Kiriyenko announced that talks towards the agreement would start at the end of April and could be concluded before the end of the year. It would "allow Japanese makers to enter Russia's nuclear plant designing, engineering and construction business." In addition, it would allow Japanese nuclear utilities, who have stockpiles of up to 6400 tonnes of uranium recovered from used nuclear fuel recycling (repU), to employ Russian companies to recombine that into fresh nuclear fuel. This requires facilities separate from normal nuclear fuel manufacture because of the different radiological profile of RepU. A Rosatom statement said that Russia's industrial and technological capabilities could supply Japan with up to 30% of its uranium products.

Russia is also currently renewing its cooperation agreement with Canada, and pursuing new ones with Australia and China.

Aside from it's deals with Russia, Japan is also working to establish strong links with Kazakhstan, another Russian partner, which holds 15% of the world's largest uranium reserves.

Statements attributed to Tadao Yanase, director of nuclear energy policy at METI describe Kazakhstan as "the key to how much uranium Japan can obtain."

Kansai Electric Power Company and Sumitomo have already bought stakes in Kazakhstani uranium mines and at the end of April a top Japanese delegation led by Economy, Trade and Industry minister Akira Amari is expected to sign a number of agreements.

Further information

WNA's Nuclear Power in Japan information paper
WNA's Nuclear Power in Russia information paper

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