Rosatom Aims for 20% of U.S. Nuclear Fuel Supply After GE Deal

Russia’s state-owned Rosatom Corp. plans to expand into supplying fuel assemblies for U.S. reactors in partnership with General Electric Co. amid increasing political tension between the nations.

Rosatom, which has since 1987 supplied the U.S. with low-enriched uranium that is then prepared for use in power plants, last week signed an accord to cooperate on possible production of fuel rods in the nation with a venture controlled by the Fairfield, Connecticut-based company. U.S. utilities would be able to use the assemblies at about a third of the nation’s 99 reactors, which generated 20 percent of electricity last year.

“We are covering about 20 percent of the U.S. enriched uranium market now,” Rosatom First Deputy Chief Executive Officer Kirill Komarov said in an interview in Moscow on Monday. “I think we are capable enough to take a comparable share of the new market" for assemblies.

Russia’s relations with the U.S. have been strained since Moscow annexed Ukraine’s Crimea Peninsula in 2014. While the U.S. and European Union banned dealings with some of President Vladimir Putin’s closest friends and allies and limited some Russian companies’ access to borrowing and technology transfers, Komarov said he sees no risks for the U.S. project.

Any Duration

“Rosatom isn’t targeted by sanctions -- neither formally nor in practice,” he said. The Moscow-based company sees interest in its product as it has units producing anything needed, from uranium to the fuel, and can meet any contract length, including for the "whole operational lifetime” of a plant.

The first contracts for Russia-produced sample supplies, known as lead use assemblies, are possible in the “coming months," while all will depend on U.S. regulators, he said. The fuel could later be produced jointly at GE’s facility in Wilmington, N.C.

Komarov declined to comment what stake Rosatom may get in the U.S. joint venture, if there is one, adding that “sensitive” uranium enrichment will stay in Russia while the final fabrication of nuclear fuel could be moved to N.C.

Rosatom’s current supplies of low-enriched uranium to the U.S. are near a limit through 2020, following an anti-dumping investigation that led to strict trade controls from 1992. Rosatom had to halt commercial supplies from 2002 to 2011, continuing shipments only as part of the so-called Megatons to Megawatts program, converting high-enriched uranium from Soviet warheads into the low-enriched product used by utilities.

The Moscow-based company currently has long-term uranium delivery contracts with Сentrus Energy Corp., which used to be a part of the program, as well as with utilities including NextEra Energy Resources and Exelon Generation Company LLC, according to Valery Govorukhin, first deputy head of Rosatom’s TENEX unit.

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