International uranium enrichment facility attracts interest as it starts delivering

16th November 2012 By: Keith Campbell - Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor

The International Uranium Enrichment Centre (IUEC), the Moscow-based Russian initiative that currently has four member countries, could gain more members in the near future. “A number of countries are interested in the IUEC,” reveals IUEC commercial director Gleb Efremov. “We can name Vietnam, South Korea, Bangladesh and the United Arab Emirates.”
In the recent past, discussions have also been held with South Africa, although these are currently in abeyance, perhaps because the South African government has not yet relaunched its new nuclear power plant (NPP) construction programme. “We’ve had a couple of meetings with South African companies and they were interested in our company,” he reports. “We are open to further discussions.”
The IUEC was launched, as a concept, five years ago. It was a proposal by the then (and now, again) Russian President, Vladimir Putin. The idea was to create a global infrastructure that would allow all countries pursuing peaceful nuclear energy to have access to the nuclear fuel cycle, without risk of politically motivated disruptions.
“This has been an objective of the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency), but it is difficult to do,” points out Efremov. “President Putin’s idea was to create a number of nuclear fuel centres around the world, but under the control of the IAEA, to supply nuclear fuel cycle services, including enrichment, to third [party] countries on a nondiscriminatory basis.” This would mean that these countries would not need to develop their own uranium enrichment facilities, thereby reducing the risk of nuclear weapons proliferation.
This initiative was supported by Kazakhstan, and the two countries combined to create the IUEC, subsequently being joined by Armenia and Ukraine. Russia, through its State-owned nuclear company, Rosatom, holds 70% plus one share of the IUEC. However, the com- pany will sell up to 20% (minus one share) of IUEC equity to new members, which would reduce the Russian group’s long- term shareholding to 50% plus one share (but no less than this). Kazakhstan, Armenia and Ukraine each hold 10%, again through State-owned companies in the nuclear sector.
“I’m proud to say that this year we saw the first commercial supply to one of our shareholders – Ukraine,” he highlights. “This proves our company works. From a proposal to actual supply in just five years – this means we’re a success.” The natural uranium that was enriched by the IUEC was supplied by Ukraine. This low-enriched uranium was then delivered by the IUEC to a Russian fuel fabrication facility, TVEL, which then delivered the completed fuel assemblies to Ukraine.
The IUEC has developed another function as well. “In 2009, we decided to support the initiative of the then IAEA director-general, Mohamed El Baradei, to establish fuel banks all around the world to provide an emergency fuel supply for countries suffering from non-commercial disruptions in their fuel supply,” explains Efremov. This initiative, in cooperation with, and under the aegis of, the IAEA, was launched in 2010.
“We are the first company, and the only centre in the world, that operates an emergency fuel bank for the IAEA.” The fuel bank is located at a chemical plant in the Irkutsk region of Siberia and currently contains a reserve of 120 t of low-enriched uranium. This is enough to produce two full reloads for a 1 MW reactor. The enrichment level of the uranium varies from 2.8% to 4.95%, thereby making it suitable for a variety of reactor designs. This material is the property of the Russian Federation, but, in accordance with the agreement with the IAEA, must be made available, within prescribed time limits, to any country designated by the IAEA director-general (currently, Yukiya Amano). “It could be delivered to a fabrication facility for the production of fuel assemblies for any design of reactor,” points out Efremov.