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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Putin Seeks to Form State Nuclear Firm Opekunov
President Vladimir Putin wants to give state companies the right to own the nation's nuclear assets and have power to form joint ventures with foreign operators, making the industry more efficient, a State Duma deputy said.

Putin's bill, proposed to the Duma on Thursday, would let the companies group together under a new state-controlled holding and try to put Russia's atomic energy industry on a commercial footing, in the manner of Paris-based Areva. The holding company would compete in all markets related to nuclear energy.

"We need to have the organizational structure in place as soon as possible,'' said Viktor Opekunov, chairman of the subcommittee for nuclear energy of the Duma's Energy, Transportation and Communications Committee.

Legislation currently forbids enterprises to hold nuclear assets, with companies like state fuel monopoly TVEL operating merely as trustees. The bill would allow all nuclear companies and institutes to be collected under the aegis of a full-cycle atomic energy holding, preliminarily named Atomprom.

Russia plans to increase its dependence on nuclear power to 25 percent of its total electricity needs by 2030, freeing more gas for exports. The country seeks to reorganize its atomic sector, mostly run by state enterprises that are not joint-stock companies, into simpler, corporate structures.

Atomprom, devised along the lines of Gazprom, would provide a broad brand name for nuclear products and services in direct competition with Areva and Toshiba's Westinghouse Electric. Atomprom would be one of a select number of companies permitted by the president to own nuclear assets.

The holding could be registered before the end of this year, by which time Putin's bill is expected to enter into law, said Sergei Novikov, spokesman for the Federal Atomic Energy Agency.

"If all goes to plan, without too many corrections, then the bill could be approved by parliament within this year,'' Opekunov said.

Federal Atomic Energy Agency chief Sergei Kiriyenko, who acts as the president's adviser on the bill, has said he wants all nuclear activities to be self-sufficient and run like businesses, not as part of the state.

Although Atomprom will be fully controlled by the state, the companies in its holding will be free to form joint ventures with private businesses, Novikov said.

The bill also allows for foreign companies to own nuclear material on Russian territory. This would allow mining companies such as Australia's BHP Billiton to send uranium ore to Russia for processing and enrichment, and then re-export.

Russia, which has the world's ninth-largest uranium reserves, wants to buy the ore from Australia, which has the world's biggest reserves of the element, although laws in both countries currently prevent this, said Vladimir Smirnov, head of Technsabexport, the state nuclear fuel trader.