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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Nuclear Reform Clears Hurdle

The State Duma on Wednesday gave preliminary approval to a bill that will pave the way for a merger of civilian nuclear companies into one state firm with global clout.

Duma deputies approved the bill in its crucial second reading Wednesday by 372-to-43.

President Vladimir Putin last year approved a revamp of the nuclear industry that officials say is aimed at boosting nuclear energy production and strengthening the country's presence on the expanding world nuclear market.

Under the plan, a single state company called Atomprom would be created on the base of the many smaller, sometimes overlapping, state-controlled companies in the sector. Current law allows only the state to own nuclear material, installations and storage facilities.

Nuclear officials compare Atomprom to state-controlled gas giant Gazprom, the world's biggest gas company by reserves, which has become a key geopolitical instrument for the Kremlin.

"Russia's atomic sector today is one of the few sectors of the national economy that is fulfilling its export potential through scientific and high-technology production," an explanatory note said.

"Foreign companies are at the present time preparing for a new stage in the competitive struggle for the world uranium market and enrichment service," the note said.

Climate change and high oil prices have prompted many countries to look with favor on nuclear energy as a cheap power source. Russia already builds nuclear power stations around the world and wants to position itself to win more contracts.