Ukrainian and Russian Nuclear Partnership: End of Cooperation


Olha Kosharna, Director of Information and Public Relations, Ukrainian State Corporation Radon

The annexation of the Crimea and military conflict in the Donbass were decisive factors in accelerating diversified supplies of products and services for Ukrainian NPPs and reducing dependence on Russian enterprises. The policy of import substitution in nuclear area of Ukraine is based on maximum use of opportunities of domestic enterprises. Engineering support of modernization and long-term operation of nuclear power units is also performed by Ukrainian organizations in cooperation with well-known European and US companies without the involvement of Russian experts. It is most likely that the cooperation between Ukraine and Russia in the nuclear industry in the near future will continue only regarding nuclear fuel supply issues.

Ukrainian and Russian nuclear industrial complexes continued to work closely for more than 20 years even after the collapse of the Soviet Union. It is not surprising, since many nuclear experts of Ukraine graduated from polytechnic institutes and universities of the Russian Federation and then started their careers at NPPs located in Russia, at enterprises of the Soviet nuclear industrial complex and scientific and research institutes of the area. Conversely, today’s Russian experts worked at Ukrainian NPPs, in the State Nuclear Energy Committee of Ukraine until such existed or in the Ministry of Energy of Ukraine.

However, everything changed in the spring of 2014. The annexation of the Crimea, an armed conflict in the Donbass using modern weapons supplied from Russia and the participation of professional Russian military forces prompted Ukrainian ministries and the Energoatom Company (operating organization of all Ukrainian NPPs) to reconsider the cooperation with the Russian Federation and to minimize it as much as possible. Active work in this direction began immediately after the annexation of the Crimea.

Supply of nuclear fuel and services at different stages of the nuclear fuel cycle

Ukrainian social and political crisis and further actions of the Russian Federation on the occupation of the Crimea and destabilization in south-eastern Ukraine also forced the EU countries to take measures on ensuring reliability of energy supplies and not only traditional oil and gas and to talk about EU energy security.

These processes of 28 May 2014 resulted in issuing of the document “European Energy Security Strategy”, which was developed based on detailed study of the European energy security held by a group of European experts (the report was published on 16 June 2014). Section 7.2 “Uranium and nuclear fuel” of the Strategy states that Russia is the main rival of European companies in the production of nuclear fuel and it offers integrated packages for investments regarding the entire nuclear chain. Therefore, special attention shall be paid to investments in new NPPs that will be constructed in the EU not according to European technologies in order to ensure that these NPPs will not depend only on Russia in terms of nuclear fuel supply: the diversification of nuclear fuel supplies shall be the condition for any new investments. Moreover, the diversification of nuclear fuel supplies is needed for NPPs of all operating organizations. This gives the new meaning to the European energy policy.

Ukraine has been interested in the diversification of nuclear fuel supplies for its NPPs since the mid-90s. The first steps on the diversification were made in 2000 during the implementation of the project on the qualification of nuclear fuel produced by the Westinghouse Company. In 2008, the Energoatom Company and Westinghouse Company signed a commercial contract for the supply of nuclear fuel in the quantity of reloading batches to three Ukrainian power units a year. The contract between the Energoatom Company and Westinghouse Company on nuclear fuel supply was extended in the spring of 2014. The addendum to this contract on the supply of additional volumes in case of force majeure, for example, complete refusal of Russia to supply nuclear fuel for Ukrainian NPPs, since such an option is quite possible for political reasons.

Currently, under long-term ten-year contract between the Energoatom Company, which is the operating organization of all Ukrainian NPPs, and the TVEL Company (Russia) signed in 2010, nuclear fuel for Ukrainian NPPs is supplied according to the schedule and in volumes agreed at the end of each year for the following year by the addendum to the contract. In average, the volume of nuclear fuel market in Ukraine is about 600 million USD annually. Under the contract, isotopic enrichment of uranium for the entire amount of fuel supplied by the TVEL Company is performed by the Russian Federation.

State Concern “Nuclear Fuel” (Ukraine) owns 10 % of shares of OJSC “International Uranium Enrichment Center” (IUEC, Angarsk, Russia) acquired in October 2010. Such number of shares allows using only 60 thousand separative work units at IUEC capacities at discounted prices and enrich in uranium-235 only 4 % of the required annual volume of uranium concentrate for the production of fuel assemblies for Ukrainian NPPs.

At the same time, the Energoatom Company supplies about 30-40 % of uranium concentrate of Ukrainian origin. IUEC capacities have been used since 2012 and continued all these years, including 2016. As part of the contract between the Energoatom Company and Westinghouse Company signed in 2014, uranium concentrate and service of uranium-235 enrichment were provided by the AREVA Company. Since 2017, all these services will be purchased from the URENKO Company. Although earlier, in 2008-2012, the Tekhnosnabeksport Company supplied isotopically enriched uranium for the Energoatom Company for nuclear fuel production by Westinghouse technology at the plant in Sweden.

Nuclear New Builds

On 3 November 2016, during the meeting of the Board of the State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate of Ukraine, the experts discussed positive results of the state review of nuclear and radiation safety of the Centralized Dry Spent Fuel Storage Facility (Centralized SFSF) that is planned to be built in the Chornobyl Exclusion Zone according to the US technology of the HoltekIntern Company. After completing all internal state procedures, the SNRIU will issue the license to the Energoatom Company for the construction and commissioning of the Centralized SFSF. The construction can be started in the spring of 2017. Stage I is planned to be completed by the end of 2018. Ukraine has experience in the construction and operation of the dry spent fuel storage facility at Zaporizhzhya NPP that was commissioned in 2001. Therefore, after commissioning of the Centralized SFSF, the Energoatom Company will stop SNF transfer to Russia. Ukraine also cooperates with Russia in the management of spent nuclear fuel by transferring it from RNPP-1 and RNPP-2 for processing to the Cheliabinsk Oblast and from three units of SUNPP, two units of KhNPP and other two units of RNPP for long-term storage to Zhelieznogorsk (Krasnoiarskii krai). The market volume of these services is estimated between 150-200 million USD per year.

On 16 September 2015, the Parliament of Ukraine denounced the agreement between the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine and the Government of the Russian Federation on the cooperation in completing construction of the third and fourth power units of Khmelnitsky NPP, which was signed in 2010. The Atomstroieksport (Russia), as the contractor, had to construct two VVER-1000 (392B) reactors with commissioning in 2015-2016.

The project has not been started before the war, since the Ukrainian party was not satisfied by conditions of the loan for the completion of KhNPP-3,4. According to the agreement, the Russian party had to give public loan at low interest rates of 85% of the cost for construction and commissioning (according to the feasibility study, the project was estimated for the amount of about 5 billion USD), as it makes for other countries where Russia constructs NPP using its own technology. However, after signing the agreement, the Russian party announced about providing of only a commercial loan under much higher percentages. Another point of conflict was the selection of suppliers of equipment and services during the construction. Previous agreements on the maximum involvement of Ukrainian suppliers and contractors have been forgotten by the Russian party.

Then there was an accident at Fukushima-Daiichi NPP in Japan. Ukraine, not being an EU member, joined the EU initiative on extraordinary safety review of all power units (so-called stress tests). According to results of stress tests of Ukrainian NPPs, the SNRIU tightened requirements for new designs of nuclear facilities according to WENRA recommendations (Western European Nuclear Regulators Association) “Design Safety of New NPPs”. The document was issued in November 2012. These requirements relate to: the review of approach to severe accident management and establishing acceptance criteria (i.e. the design of a new nuclear installation shall demonstrate that severe accidents with core melt will not have radiological consequences beyond the control area, which would led to the evacuation of the public); establishing more severe safety margins with regard to the extended spectrum of possible extreme natural and man-made impacts/combinations of impacts (in particular, margin regarding seismic impacts shall be increased to 100 %); ensuring long-term fulfillment of a safety function in conditions of total blackout and loss of ultimate heat sink (ensuring reactor life not less than 72 hours in case of the total blackout (the so-called self-sufficiency of the nuclear island) and not less than 14 days in case of external blackout (the so-called self-sufficiency of NPP site).

The design of VVER-1000 power units described in the agreement on the construction completion no longer met the requirements. The new design of NPP-2006 reactor proposed by the Russian Federation was not suitable for the Ukrainian party for various reasons, including the fact that the previous contest was conducted under condition of using already available structures for KhNPP-3,4. The new design envisaged the construction from the very beginning, so its price increased twofold. Moreover, it would be fairer to announce a new competition involving the world leading companies owing reactors. The aggression of Russia against Ukraine became the basis for the termination of fruitless negotiations and official denunciation of the agreement.

The project of constructing nuclear fuel production plant in Ukraine according to TVEL Company technology was frozen. The Ukrainian and Russian specialized enterprise (Specialized Enterprise “Nuclear Fuel Production Plant”, where 50%+1 of shares belong to State Company “Nuclear Fuel”, and 50%+1 of shares belong to Russian TVEL Company) was created for the implementation of this project. The feasibility study of the design and the site for plant location were approved by the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine on 27 June 2012 by relevant resolution. According to the national legislation, construction of the nuclear fuel production plant (as any other nuclear installation) can be started only if the SNRIU issues the license for “construction and commissioning of a nuclear facility”. First, the two main conditions for issuing such a license is the SNRIU approval of the preliminary safety analysis report (PSAR) and approval of the nuclear facility design by the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine.

PSAR of the nuclear fuel production plant was approved by the SNRIU on 04 December 2013. The design of this nuclear facility has not been approved in 2014-2015 despite receiving of the Expert Report (positive) on the review of design documents of the “Construction of the Nuclear Fuel Production Plant” from State Enterprise “Ukrderzhbudekspertyza” on 12 December 2013. The new management of the Ministry of Energy and Coal Industry of Ukraine dealt with the contract conditions and concluded that the project is not profitable for Ukraine, since according to the contract Ukraine does not own the technology, but only has the right to use it. In the event of force majeure, the Ukrainian party could lose such a right. Moreover, the design capacity of the plant will exceed the needs of Ukraine and options for selling product surplus were not worked out. The annexation of the Crimea and military aggression of the Russian Federation in the Donbass also became the cause of project freezing.

In connection with the termination of the maximum possible period established by the law for the consideration of application documents (formally), on 24 November 2015, the SNRIU refused to issue a license to the Specialized Enterprise “Nuclear Fuel Production Plant” for the construction and commissioning of the plant due to the failed approval of the nuclear facility design according to the established procedure and, as a consequence, absence of grounds for issuing of such a license.

Equipment and engineering services during modernization and long-term operation of Ukrainian NPPs

Ukrainian legislation that regulates the use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes does not envisage the existence of such institutions as the Chief Reactor Designer and Chief Supervisor that existed in Soviet times and that remained in Russia. The operating organization is fully responsible for operational safety of nuclear facilities in Ukraine. It selects and qualifies the suppliers of equipment and services. Nevertheless, Russian colleagues based on their current and Soviet experience believe that all operating organizations of VVER reactors shall agree technical decisions on modernization of power units, equipment replacement, accompanying process of Ukrainian NPP long-term operation beyond design 30 years with mentioned Chief Reactor Designer and Chief Supervisor.

As part of reducing dependence on Russia on the supply of spare parts, national enterprises master the manufacturing of new products. Thus, Ukrainian enterprise PJSC “Turboatom” mastered the production of rotor blades for turbines produced by Russian Power Machines Company. As it is known, the Turboatom Company produces low-speed steam turbines for NPPs. The experts seek for the possibilities to produce spare parts, for example, for diesel generators produced by Russian Dizelenergo Company. This concerns other equipment as well.

The systems for radiation monitoring of the primary side coolant in terms of reference radionuclides, monitoring of radiation situation for all Ukrainian NPPs (so-called standard monitoring positions), software and hardware of the automated process control systems, management and control systems for NPPs with VVER are designed and produced by Ukrainian enterprises.

In 2007-2012, Russian experts from design and engineering technical institutes and enterprises such as Experimental Design Bureau “Gidropress” (Podilsk), Gazproekt, Center for Materials Science and Resources, CKTI-Vibroseism (Saint Petersburg), Central Research Institute of Structural Materials “Prometey” (Saint Petersburg) and others were involved into activities on long-term operation of RNPP-1,2 and SUNPP-1.

Today, the Energoatom Company involves national organizations and enterprises to perform research activities and calculations justifying safety. Such organizations and enterprises include those known since Soviet times, namely the Scientific Research Institute for Building Structures, Kyiv and Kharkiv “Energoproject” (designers of Ukrainian NPPs), Kyiv Institute of Engineering Survey and Research, Institute of Geophysics, Institute for Nuclear Research, Paton Electric Welding Institute, Kharkiv Institute of Physics and Technology of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, and other that were created during 25 years of Ukraine’s independence.

The Energoatom Company actively cooperates with European companies, such as the Nuclear Research Institute (Rez, Czech Republic), Skoda and UNIX Companies (Czech Republic), IBERDROLA IngenieriaConstruccion (Spain), TUV (Germany), AREVA (France), Scandpower (Sweden), on many issues related to the safe operation of nuclear facilities. Naturally, the US companies as well entered the Ukrainian market of engineering services.

It can be stated that Russia has completely lost the market of engineering services for NPPs and other nuclear facilities for SNF and radioactive waste management in Ukraine. The Ukrainian operating organization successfully deals with the scientific and technical support of safe operation of nuclear power plants without the participation of Russian organizations. This can be confirmed by results of numerous international missions of such organizations as the IAEA and WANO.

Summing up, Ukraine will minimize cooperation with Russian enterprises that used to supply products and services for Ukrainian NPPs and SNF and radioactive waste management facilities, not to mention new construction projects in this area.

However, considering specific nature of such a product, as fuel assemblies for VVER reactors, and the fact that only the TVEL Company and Westinghouse Company own the production technology, and valid agreement between the Energoatom Company and TVEL Company till 2020 inclusive, the cooperation on nuclear fuel supply will continue. On my opinion, the agreement between the Ukrainian operating organization and the Russian company for supply after 2020 will be completely different. Uranium concentrate and isotopic enrichment will likely be purchased on the world market and only fabrication will remain for the TVEL Company. Ukraine will keep another supplier to create competitive pricing conditions and technological competition, the question is only about its share in the nuclear fuel market of Ukraine.

Olha Kosharna

This article was prepared for Russian Analytical Digest No. 193, Nuclear Issues, 30 November, issued by the Center for Security Studies, ETH Zurich.