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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Nuclear Assets Rolled Into Giant Group

Itar-TassKiriyenko, right, and Sergei Ivanov touring a Vladimir region plant in April.
Russia is back as a major player on the world nuclear market as President Vladimir Putin crafts a state behemoth to consolidate the country's atomic assets after the chaos that accompanied the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The Kremlin is folding all civilian nuclear assets -- ranging from uranium mines and nuclear fuel enrichment plants to atomic power stations -- into one giant state corporation, Rosatom.

Atomenergoprom, the company that will be at the center of the new state corporation, now has annual sales of about $8 billion, but revenues are set to mushroom as the firm builds the dozens of reactors at home and seeks to break into world markets.

"Atomenergoprom was created to compete on the global market and boost nuclear power generation within the country," said Sergei Kiriyenko, the head of the Federal Atomic Energy Agency. "We consider our competitors to be the transnational giants.

"It will be a company encompassing the full cycle -- from mining uranium to the generation of electricity at atomic stations and decommissioning them," said Kiriyenko, the man behind the creation of the corporation.

Kiriyenko said the main competitors were the nuclear partnership between France's Areva and Germany's Siemens; Japan's Toshiba, which owns U.S.-based Westinghouse Electric; and GE Hitachi, which is the nuclear venture of General Electric and Japan's Hitachi.

Kremlin officials say the company is part of a plan to boost the country's international clout in sectors where it can compete such as gas, oil, weapons and nuclear materials.

They see it as an atomic version of gas giant Gazprom, the world's biggest gas company by reserves, which has flexed its muscles by demanding access to European energy markets.

After the alliances formed by major players on the world market, Russia could play a key role in building the biggest player, nuclear officials said.

"If Russia forms a strategic partnership, then that partnership will become the leader of the world atomic market," said Kirill Komarov, deputy director of Atomenergoprom.

Russia has plans to construct two reactors a year starting in 2012 as part of a drive to almost double the share of atomic energy production to 25 percent to 30 percent by 2030 from 16 percent now.

Russia, one of the world's biggest sellers of enrichment services, has been trying to break into the prosperous nuclear markets of the United States and European Union.

Russia now sells only uranium from dismantled Russian nuclear weapons to the United States under a program known as megatons to megawatts. Sales are made through USEC.

No other Russian uranium exports are made to the United States because anti-dumping tariffs make them prohibitively expensive.

But that could change over the next five years.

Officials from both countries made a preliminary agreement this month to allow limited imports of Russian uranium. Exports will be small until 2013, when the USEC contract expires, but then it will soar, according to a copy of the agreement.

"All the U.S. utilities are fighting for access to more Russian supply," said Kevin Smith, director of Uranium Trading at Traxys Group in New York.

"If this deal is approved then sometime next year it could be legal for U.S. and European utilities to contract for additional quantities with the Russians for the post 2013," he said.

"That will bring a lot more supply onto the market."

But while boosting low enriched uranium, or LEU, supply, it could absorb more raw uranium from the market, as the country's enrichment firm, Techsnabexport, seeks to enrich uranium rather than dilute weapons-grade fuel, analysts say.

"Russian companies are likely to prefer to export low enriched uranium derived from natural uranium rather than from down blending HEU [highly enriched uranium]," said Max Layton, a London-based analyst for Macquarie Capital Securities.

"Although this would, ceteris paribus, increase the demand for natural uranium in 2014, the rise is likely to be small considering that Russian enrichment facilities are generally more efficient than western facilities," he said.

Russia also wants the European Union to lift the limits of nuclear imports from outside the EU that were adopted by an unpublished motion known as the Declaration of Corfu.

"We hope that this declaration, which expires in December 2007, will not be extended," a senior Russian nuclear official said.

"Hidden quotas for Russian uranium production on the EU market have nothing in common with the principles of liberal economics and go against WTO rules," the official said.

Russia has about 870,000 tons of uranium in reserves and more than 1 million tons if joint ventures abroad are included. That excludes a strategic reserve of highly enriched uranium and plutonium whose size is a state secret.

Russia's moves to boost uranium mining have attracted some of the world's biggest companies, and officials say they are happy to forge joint ventures with foreign companies.

Cameco, the world's largest uranium miner, has had talks with Russian firms about joint exploration projects in Russia and Canada, while Japan's Mitsui has agreed to take part in developing the giant Elkon deposit in the Far East.

The Elkon deposit alone contains an estimated 7 percent of the world's uranium reserves.

It will be one of several projects key to boosting the country's uranium output by 2020.