The Competition for the Ukrainian Nuclear Fuel Cycle: Rosatom, Westinghouse, and Implications for Nuclear Energy in the Near Abroad
McPhee, Sarah Lynn
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The Competition for the Ukrainian Nuclear Fuel Cycle: Rosatom, Westinghouse, and Implications for Nuclear Energy in the Near Abroad Abstract Sarah McPhee, MAIS Candidate University of Washington Contemporary Ukraine suffers from multiple energy security challenges. For a decade, Ukrainian dependence upon Russian gas has sent shivers through Western Europe, leading to a 2014 EU policy commitment to energy diversity. The 2006 “Gas Wars” captured international headlines, but a lesser known struggle quietly unfolded in the region since the fall of the Soviet Union — the competition for the Ukrainian nuclear fuel cycle — and may actually result in real changes to Near Abroad energy dependence, as well as the global nuclear energy landscape. Ukraine relies upon nuclear energy for nearly 50% of its energy needs, ranking fourth in the world in nuclear-reliance and eighth in nuclear power generation. Due to the highly proprietary nature of nuclear reactors and fuel assemblies, TVEL, the fuel fabrication arm of the Russian national nuclear corporation Rosatom, has supplied almost 100% of the fuel for Ukraine’s reactors. Russia has also provided 85% of all related equipment and has been the sole recipient of Ukrainian spent fuel, effectively monopolizing the Ukrainian fuel cycle for decades. Influenced by the tragic and tumultuous events of 2014 in the Donbas, a deal was finally realized between Ukraine’s Energoatom and Westinghouse to provide fuel assemblies for six of fifteen VVER reactors until 2020. This victory in the VVER market is a result of a State Department-funded initiative to help Ukrainians with their energy dependency woes. Spanning seventeen years, the Ukraine Nuclear Fuel Qualification Project (UNFQP) was initiated by geopolitical nuclear nonproliferation calculations, constantly obstructed by hegemonic ambitions, and often impeded by influential domestic actors. Despite all complications, the success of the project is undeniable, with far-reaching consequences. This paper will address several important questions arising from the success of the UNFQP. How has Russia utilized Rosatom as a foreign policy tool, and what are the politics of nuclear energy dominance and dependence in the Near Abroad? After almost twenty-five years, why have states like Ukraine remained dependent upon Russia for their nuclear fuel cycles, despite the known national security risk? Finally, how and why have Western governments such as the United States and the European Union intervened in the politics of nuclear energy dominance and dependence in the Near Abroad? These are vital questions to address as nations in Central and Eastern Europe begin to reassess their relationship and dependence upon Moscow as a matter of national security. Countries which have been careful to maintain close economic ties with Russia, such as Bulgaria and the Czech Republic, have already begun considering Western bids for plant extensions, new reactors, and fuel contracts. Westinghouse’s competition with TVEL seems to be in the best interest of the West since its success lessens the Moscow’s influence in those regions, but it is important to consider that nuclear energy is more than just business when the Kremlin’s ‘power vertical’ controls all aspects of the Russian nuclear industry.