Global supply chain needed so countries can move from dependence on Moscow, says Urenco executive

A Urenco uranium facility. The company says there is a role for there is a role governments to play in the fuel supply process. Courtesy Urenco.

As demand for new nuclear power in Europe increases, the pressure for alternatives to Russian nuclear fuel for VVER reactors is also increasing, nuclear power executives said at a London conference.

The increased demand for advanced and small modular reactors across Europe over the next five to 10 years also points to the need for a new global strategy for diversified fuel supply from companies like Urenco, Westinghouse and Framatome, which have the potential to produce sufficient amounts of nuclear fuel for the European industry, according to their own estimates.

Debbie Breasley, director of government affairs at Urenco, said that “some companies self-sanction, but there is no fuel tender yet that specifically excludes Russia. Seeing more and more tenders that specify no Russian fuel might be the next step.”

A proposal for a new strategy to avoid nuclear fuel supply from Russia is needed, according to Breasley. This would also suggest that somebody needs to manage this strategy for fuel customers.

“There is plenty of natural uranium in the world and with the right price level for miners that we are seeing now, they can invest in capacity”, Breasley noted at the Nuclear Industry Association UK’s annual conference in London on 7 December. “However, there is not enough uranium conversion capacity, so investment in it is needed,” she added.

“A global supply chain is needed to allow countries in eastern Europe with contracts with Russia to move from their dependence on one [fuel] supplier,” according to Breasley.

“Advanced reactor manufacturers need fuel to have the business case to build a reactor, so there is a role for governments to play in this process. The UK government has been very focused on building advanced nuclear reactors in the UK,” she added.

War In Ukraine Brings New Reality

Tarik Choho, president of Westinghouse nuclear fuel, said at the conference that the industry “always has security of supply in focus, but had to have war [in Ukraine] to make it a reality”.

As far as “fuel design is concerned, now we can reformulate and deliver VVER fuel, so every utility that has a VVER reactor can be independent of Russia”, Choho said.

“Ukraine was aware for years that it had to have alternative VVER-1000 fuel supply,” he said. “I had to rework the licensing and design for VVER-440 fuel and am happy that I was able to deliver it [the first VVER-440 fuel] to Ukraine in September.”

Currently, 21 out of 34 VVERs globally have fuel supply contracts outside Russia, Choho noted. Countries being supplied by Russia with VVER fuel were “used to getting everything in one package,” Choho also said, referring to services on the back end of the nuclear fuel cycle also supplied by Russia.

Westinghouse is happy to work together with Urenco, Choho added, while Urenco is also prepared to partner with Westinghouse, according to Breasley.

Choho said that Westinghouse had already received some UK government funding to work on development of advanced nuclear fuel in the UK. He added that the company’s Springfields nuclear fuel complex in northern England currently supplies advanced gas-cooled reactor and pressurised water reactor fuel for the European market.

While Westinghouse was currently able to undertake fuel fabrication at its Springfields facility, the company was also working on a molten salt fuel programme there, Choho said, adding that the group was also looking at potentially building a conversion facility at Springfields too.

First Westinghouse Fuel Loaded At Rivne

Following Russia’s 24 February 2022 invasion of Ukraine, VVER reactor operators across Europe intensified efforts to diversify their nuclear fuel supply. In Ukraine, the first Westinghouse fuel to be loaded into a VVER-440 reactor in the country was loaded into a unit at the Rivne nuclear station, comprising two VVER-440 reactors and two VVER-1000s, with a combined capacity of 2,657 MW.

Finnish nuclear company Fortum currently has a fuel supply contract until 2027 with Tvel, the fuel subsidiary of Russian state nuclear group Rosatom, for its Loviisa nuclear station, comprising two Russian-designed VVER-440 reactors, each with a capacity of 507 MW.

Fortum executives have recently said that “fuel diversification is a focus” for the company.

In Eastern Europe, Westinghouse has a fuel supply contract with Czech power company ČEZ to supply fuel for the VVER-440- reactors at the Dukovany plant, with first deliveries scheduled for early 2024.

Both Westinghouse and France’s Framatome already supply fuel to the VVER-1000 units at ČEZ’s Temelín nuclear station in the Czech Republic. Since 2019 Westinghouse-made test fuel assemblies have been in operation in the reactor core of Temelín. Westinghouse had also been supplying fuel for the plant in the early 2000s.

Bulgaria and Slovakia are making similar diversification efforts away from reliance on Russian nuclear fuel.

Namely, Bulgaria has got nuclear fuel contracts with Westinghouse for Kozloduy-5 VVER 1000 reactor, and with Framatome for the Kozloduy-6 VVER 1000 with first deliveries scheduled in 2024.

In Slovakia, an agreement has been reached with Westinghouse for the licensing and supply of Westinghouse VVER-440 fuel assemblies as part of Slovak power company Slovenske Elektrarne’s efforts to diversify its supplies for power plants in Slovakia, Westinghouse and Slovenske Elektrarne said in August. According to Westinghouse, it takes a year to fulfil the fuel delivery agreement.

Meanwhile, Hungary has not made yet efforts to step away from Russian nuclear fuel supply, although parliament has supported plans to allow using nuclear fuel from alternative sources to Russia for its only commercial station, the four-unit Paks, according to an unconfirmed report by the state Tass news agency.

Framatome is also developing fuel for VVER-440 and VVER-1000 reactors, but it is seen as being somewhat behind Westinghouse in the fuel development process. 

A proposal is needed for a new strategy to avoid nuclear fuel supply from Russia, Urenco’s Debbie Breasley said. Courtesy Urenco.

Date: Wednesday, 20 December 2023
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