Eastern Europe And The Future Of Nuclear Fuel Supply

On 13th April, Westinghouse and Framatome (both ENS Corporate Members) have been awarded a long-term contract by Czech utility ČEZ for the supply of nuclear fuel assemblies to the Temelín nuclear power plant. Under the contract, deliveries of fuel will start in 2024 and continue for approximately 15 years.

Due to diversification, two suppliers were finally selected so that ČEZ Group could reliably ensure a continuous supply of fuel assemblies for the Temelín nuclear power plant’s reactors in the future, thus minimising the risks of a possible supply outage

the Czech company said.

During the same week, several other agreements have been signed by the three above-mentioned companies, in order to boost the cooperation in the Czech nuclear sector with the state power company ČEZ and other local companies.

For many years, the EU has been making efforts to diversify its fuel supply, specifically in the nuclear sector.

In accordance with the Euratom Treaty, the Euratom Supply Agency (ESA) takes responsibility for the common nuclear supply policy, which aims to secure a regular and equitable supply of nuclear fuels to all EU users.

Diversification is paramount:

  • to prevent excessive dependence of EU users on any single third-country supplier
  • to achieve security of supply of nuclear fuels in the medium and long term.

According to ESA (ENS Member), 18 power plants in the EU, which represent around 10% of EU gross nuclear electricity capacity, are fully dependent on supply of Russian fuel. These concern operators in Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia and one operator (out of two) in Finland.

All the fuel for the Russian-design reactors (VVER 440 and VVER 1000) is delivered by the Russian company TVEL. The value of Russian nuclear fuel imports totalled EUR 239 million in 2021.

The recent agreements in the Czech Republic are witnessing the ongoing progress that has been made in the last years in diversifying the supply of nuclear fuel, specifically for one type of Russian-design reactors (VVER-1000) and alternative fuel design is now almost ready to be employed in the EU Member States concerned (Czech Republic, Bulgaria).

However, the other types of reactors (i.e. VVER-440) are fully dependent on Russian fuel assemblies at the moment. The concerned utilities have fresh fuel in their stock and could operate for 1-2 years. Therefore, the impact of immediate ending of Russian nuclear fuel imports would be experienced in a couple of years, ESA says. To secure their operation beyond this period, the utilities are now expediting the work with Westinghouse towards an alternative fuel design for VVER-440 reactors, which however can only be available in the medium term. Indeed, experts highlight how the need for price control and to license new fuel in short term are two relevant aspects to be considered. International collaboration in this field is highly recommended to compensate for the general lack of experience in producing fuel for this type of reactor.

Since the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, ESA and the Commission are closely monitoring the nuclear fuel stock and supply situation in the Member States dependent on Russian fuel. They are in continuous exchange with them on this matter.

In general, the Member States who are today still (fully or partially) dependent on Russian fuel have fresh fuel inventories to continue operation for around two years on average (new deliveries are done so the situation is changing quickly), and each for at least one year. The sanctions on transport forced the operators to look for alternative routes and modes.

Alternative fuels need to be licenced by the EU Member States’ national regulators and the process usually takes several years. Ukraine’s experience in using services of an alternative fuel fabricator (Westinghouse, US/Sweden) could also be beneficial for the EU Member States and Ukraine is willing to share it, ESA stated.

Further technical details on the nuclear fuel diversification in Ukraine during the past years are available on the Ukrainian Nuclear Society web archive: “Diversification of the VVER fuel market” (published in 2016).