Russia and Australia expanding cooperation in the field of nuclear energy
Implementation of these plans is expected to take place as part as an agreement, signed last year by the Russian nuclear giant Rosatom with Australian mining holding Rio Tinto, as well as the current Russian-Australian Intergovernmental Agreement on Cooperation in the Use of Atomic Energy for Peaceful Purposes.
A few weeks ago, Australia delivered the first batch of uranium in Russia, and there is possibility that during the next several years the volume of supplies is expected to be significantly increased.
According to the World Nuclear Association, Australia currently has the world’s largest reserves of uranium (about one third of the discovered volumes), accounting for about 11% of total world production with 5983 tonnes.
The country does not have its own conversion and enrichment facilities, which means that all of its uranium is exported to abroad. At present the largest Australian uranium fields are owned by local mining giants BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto.
Although the basic intergovernmental agreement on the use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes was signed between Russia and Australia as far back as in 2007, until now Australia did not allow to export uranium to Russia. One of the main reasons of this is strict Australian legislation in the field of nuclear non-proliferation. The barrier was lifted only in June 2011, when Rosatom signed an additional memorandum with the Australian government, which regulated procedural issues and provided guarantees that its uranium will be used exclusively for peaceful purposes.
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So far, Australia has signed more than 20 bilateral agreements with various countries for the supply of uranium. Among them was also an agreement with the USSR (“Cooperation in the Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy“), which was signed on February 15, 1990, however, neither the Soviet Union nor its successor Russia could not meet the conditions set by the Australian government for the further use of its uranium, which resulted in the imposition of export ban.
At the same time the expansion of cooperation with Australia will be highly beneficial for Russia, which operates 40% of the world’s uranium enrichment capacities, which are highly underutilized. At present Russia has four major enterprises for uranium enrichment, among which are Ural Electrochemical Plant (UEIP) Novouralsk, Electrochemical Plant (ECP) in Zelenogorsk, Siberian Chemical Combine (SCC) in Seversk and Angarsk Electrolysis and Chemical Plant (AECC) Angarsk, Irkutsk region.
During the processing of uranium Rosatom intends to use tolling scheme of enrichment of Australian uranium in accordance with the orders of Western power engineering companies.
Sergei Kiriyenko, head of Rosatom, comments:
“Australia has the world’s largest reserves of natural uranium, but does not have its own enrichment technologies. Russia, in contrast, has the world’s largest processing plants, which experience a shortage of raw materials. The reserves of only one Australian uranium mine Olympic Dam are two times higher than all the Russian reserves. If Australia has 40% of the world’s uranium reserves, than Russia accounts for 40% of its global processing capacities, and the cooperation with Australia will increase the competitiveness of the domestic manufacturing sector.”
The Russian government also believes that will allow it to increase exports of uranium enrichment services for nuclear power plants in Western Europe and other developed countries.
A particular attention is expected to be paid to the increase of presence in the US, through the sell of enrichment services in this country in addition to the sale of low-enriched uranium. At the same time, according to plans of the Russian government, the increase of enrichment volumes will allow Russia to increase supplies of enriched uranium for nuclear reactors, which are currently under construction in India, Iran and China and which were designed under the Russian and Soviet technologies.
The Russian industry of uranium enrichment was established in the late 1940s for the production of highly enriched uranium (HEU) as part of the Soviet nuclear weapons program.
During the 1950-1960s the USSR started the production of uranium for reactors marine power plants, research reactors and nuclear power reactors. The production of high-enriched uranium for weapons was terminated at the end of the 1980s.
Over a period of 50 years, the Soviet Union (and now Russia) has developed a highly efficient uranium enrichment technology with the use of centrifuges.
Currently Russia’s explored uranium reserves are 615,000 tons (while estimated reserves – 830,000 tons).
Currently the Russian government pays big attention for the development of domestic industry of nuclear power, which is reflected by the recent adoption of an ambitious target federal program “For the Development of National Nuclear Industry”, which involves active building of nuclear power plants both within the country and abroad.
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