Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Russia offers India investment option in uranium project in Siberia

Russia has offered India the option of investing in its upcoming international uranium enrichment centre at Angarsk, Siberia, in lieu of paying for nuclear fuel to be supplied to the Koodankulam nuclear station, which is being built with Russian assistance.

At the delegation level talks between India and Russia during the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh’s recent Moscow visit, the Russians indicated at the possibility of India investing in the centre as one of the ways for India to pay for the nuclear fuel to be supplied the Koodankulam plant in Tamil Nadu.

“The Russian Government has proposed that fuel supplies from the Angarsk facility could be considered for units being set up through Russian assistance in the country. The investments that India might make in the Angarsk enrichment centre would, in such a scenario, be considered as payment for the uranium fuel to be supplied to Koodankulam,” a Government official involved in the exercise said.

Russia has committed to refuel the Koodankulam station throughout its service. The project’s first unit, being built in collaboration with Russian firm Atomstroyexport, is likely to be commissioned in the second half of 2008, the second one in 2009.
Angarsk centre

The Angarsk International Uranium Enrichment Centre is being set up by Russia for supply of uranium to countries with nuclear energy programmes under the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards. Russia is establishing the project in collaboration with countries such as Kazakhstan under the supervision of the nuclear watchdog at the Angarsk Electrolysis Chemical Plant in Eastern Siberia.

India is currently in the process of approaching the IAEA for negotiating India-specific safeguards.

Russia is currently helping build two nuclear units with 1,000-MW light water reactors at Koodankulam and talks are in advanced stages for collaborations on four additional units at the same site in the wake of the pact reached between India and Russia in January this year.

While Russia’s Federal Atomic Energy Agency representatives have earlier indicated at the possibility of India being included in the Angarsk project during bilateral meetings held earlier this year, Moscow has clearly linked India’s participation in the project to the lifting of Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) restrictions in the wake of Indo-US nuclear deal, officials said.

Russia had proposed setting up the centre early last year, in the backdrop of tensions over Iran’s nuclear ambitions, as a way to safeguard nuclear non-proliferation goals by providing uranium fuel to countries intent on building nuclear power plants, while making sure they do not develop nuclear weapons programmes. According to reports, there has been a general consensus among NSG members about Russia conducting enrichment at such a standalone facility.

The Angarsk facility has traditionally been associated with Russian civilian nuclear programme and had been kept completely out of the erstwhile Soviet Union’s atomic weapons programme, thereby, making it easier for the plant to be put under IAEA control. The Centre is expected to produce only low-enriched uranium, which cannot be diverted for building nuclear weapons. Uranium enriched to low levels can be used as fuel for nuclear power plants, but higher levels of enrichment make it possible to divert the fuel for the construction of the core of a nuclear bomb.

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