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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Japan, Russia Hold Uranium Talks

APJapanese Emperor Akihito greeting Mikhail Fradkov in Tokyo on Wednesday.
TOKYO -- Moscow hopes wide-ranging talks with Tokyo will strengthen economic ties, with plans for Russia to enrich uranium used at Japanese utilities and reuse it at Russian power plants high on the agenda, officials said Tuesday.

Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov is heading a large delegation of Russians, including several Cabinet ministers, on a visit to Japan for a broad range of discussions on economic cooperation centering on energy.

Japan has the world's third-largest nuclear power generation capacity after the United States and France, but sends most of its used uranium to Britain and France as it only has experimental uranium enrichment facilities.

Japanese Trade Minister Akira Amari said uranium enrichment would be on the agenda when Fradkov met Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe for talks Wednesday in Tokyo.

"Regarding uranium enrichment, it is important to broaden our options," Amari said.

On Tuesday, Fradkov met Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso, Finance Minister Koji Omi and Amari for talks on issues ranging from energy to transportation and tourism.

Industry and Energy Minister Viktor Khristenko and Federal Atomic Energy Agency chief Sergei Kiriyenko are also visiting Tokyo this week.

The Japanese trade minister said Russia's acceptance of inspections by the United Nations' nuclear watchdog and both countries' compliance with that body would be necessary, pointing out growing international concern over Iran's nuclear ambitions.

Russia is becoming a more important oil and gas supplier to resource-poor Japan, which has imported about 90 percent of its crude oil needs from Middle Eastern producers.

Gazprom took control of the Sakhalin-2 oil and gas project in December from Shell and Japanese partners Mitsui and Mitsubishi after months of Moscow threatening to delay the project.

That project is expected eventually to supply about 8 percent of Japan's liquefied natural gas, or LNG, imports.

"Russia is the world's top or second-ranked country regarding its natural gas and oil production as well as its reserves. The fact that the Far East will be developed further is very significant for Japan and Russia," Amari said. "The two countries' energy relations are evolving."

After Gazprom's takeover of Sakhalin-2, a rival project, Sakhalin-1 led by U.S. major ExxonMobil, is being closely watched.

"Japanese companies said that if Sakhalin-1 shifts to LNG, they would be interested" in buying from it, Amari said, after receptions Monday that he had attended with business officials and the Industry and Energy Minister.

Pressure is mounting on Sakhalin 1 to produce LNG -- natural gas chilled to a liquid state for transportation -- instead of pipelining gas for which it has failed to find a buyer. Asian end-users usually buy natural gas as LNG and lack the facilities to receive pipelined gas.

Russia has also invited Japanese companies to take part in oil firm Rosneft's plan to build a refinery on the Pacific coast, Khristenko said. "This will make a tight team," he said.

Khristenko said Rosneft had proposed jointly producing and selling refined products with Japanese firms and that the state fully supported the idea.

"This would mean setting up cooperation along the whole energy chain," Khristenko said.

Rosneft declined to comment.

The ministry did not say which Japanese companies were invited to take part in the project. On Monday, Khristenko met executives from Japanese companies including Mitsui and Mitsubishi.