Enrichment group to grow

10 February 2009

Ukraine is soon to join the international uranium enrichment project set up by Russia and Kazakhstan. Diplomatic notes forming a deal for Ukraine's accession are to be exchanged.


The Russian government has approved a request by the nuclear industry's centralised Rosatom corporation for Ukraine to join the project and prime minister Vladimir Putin has ordered the exchange of diplomatic notes between the Russian, Kazakh and Ukrainian governments.


The International Uranium Enrichment Centre would see uranium from member countries enriched at Angarsk in Russia under international supervision. The scheme is not yet finalised, but in theory it would offer member countries assured supplies of nuclear fuel under some sort of arbitration by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). An additional possibility is that such a scheme would take back highly-radioactive used nuclear fuel from client countries for reprocessing and recycling or for permanent storage.


Kazakhstan was first to join Russia in the scheme in 2006, keen as it is to develop the entire front end of the nuclear fuel cycle, from uranium mining to manufacturing of finished reactor fuel. Kazakhstan is already the world's third-biggest supplier of uranium, while Russia ranks fourth and and Ukraine comes in at ninth. Ukraine uses 15 Russian-design reactors built during the Soviet era which all rely on imported fuel. The country is working with Westinghouse to develop an alternative supply route to enhance competition and security of supply. Another country preparing to join is Armenia.


The concept of an international fuel cycle has come to the fore in recent years partly due to suspicions that Iran's uranium enrichment facilities were once part of an undeclared nuclear weapons program. Countries that agree to abide by the global non-proliferation regime and within which the IAEA is confident nuclear power is only used peacefully would be guaranteed supplies of uranium fuel. The theory is that those countries would never need to develop their own uranium enrichment or reprocessing facilities, which otherwise could potentially be misused for weapons production.