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Australia, Ukraine deal on nuclear cooperation paves way for U3O8 exports

Ukraineand Australia signed off on a nuclear cooperation agreement April 1, in a deal thatopens the path for Ukraine to import Australian uranium concentrate and reduce itscurrent reliance on Russian-supplied fuel for its 15 operational reactors.

The dealshould allow the former Soviet republic to begin importing yellowcake from Australiaas early as this year, Interfax reported April 1, citing Volodymyr Demchyshyn, Ukrainianenergy and coal minister.

"Iam confident that in the next year we will proceed closer to signing commercialagreements. We think around 300-600 tonnes a year, or about 25% of the uranium concentratethat we use," he was quoted as saying during the signing ceremony.

He signedthe deal with Australian foreign minister, Julie Bishop, in Washington, D.C., duringthe course of a nuclear safety summit.

Ukraineis one of the largest generators of nuclear energy. It operates 15 reactors at fourseparate power stations around the country, consuming approximately 2,400 tonnesof uranium concentrate per annum. Its current domestic production is sufficientto meet only half of this demand, according to Interfax.

It hashistorically bought refined nuclear fuel from Russian state-owned company TVEL.But in an effort to diversify its fuel supplies, Ukraine began buying fuel for oneof its reactors from Westinghouse's Swiss subsidiary in 2011.

The programwith the American company was expanded last year, with Demchyshyn announcing Westinghousefuel would be supplied to an additional two reactors and the overall contract extendeduntil 2020.

Kievhas been trying to wean itself off Russian supplies for the past 10 years afterMoscow halted them on a number of occasions. Efforts to similarly diversify thecountry's nuclear fuel supply started in 2008, leading to the contract with Westinghousein 2011.

Ukraine,which lacks its own facilities for processing uranium concentrate into nuclear fuel,will likely import uranium from Australia for processing at Westinghouse's Europeanfacilities, according to the report.