As nuclear power continues to be seen as and important part of the global energy mix, opportunities for the supply of parts, services and materials to the sector remains in demand. Yury Aleksandrovich Olenin, president of Russian Fuel Company TVEL, tells NEI of the business’s ambitions and shares his thoughts on the state of the global uranium enrichment market.
NEI: Describe TVEL’s main subsidiary enterprises and their activities?
Yury Aleksandrovich Olenin (YAO): Fuel Company TVEL is a Russian producer of nuclear fuel, a production holding, and part of the Rosatom State Nuclear Energy Corporation. TVEL incorporates a number
of enterprises that operate as subsidiaries within four complexes: separation-sublimation; fabrication of nuclear fuel; manufacture of gas centrifuges; and research and development.
The separation-sublimation complex includes JSC Angarsk Electrolysis and Chemical Plant (Angarsk, Irkutsk region), JSC Production Association Electrochemical Plant (Zelenogorsk, Krasnoyarsk region), JSC Siberian Chemical Plant (Seversk, Tomsk region), and JSC Ural Electrochemical Integrated Plant (Novouralsk, Sverdlovsk region). The main activity of the company is producing uranium hexafluoride, with the proportion of U-235 isotope enriched to five per cent
The complex fabricating the nuclear fuel includes the following companies: PJSC Machine Engineering Plant (Elektrostal, Moscow region) PJSC Novosibirsk Chemical Concentrates Plant (Novosibirsk, Novosibirsk region), JSC Chepetsk Mechanical Plant (Glazov, Udmurtia Republic), and JSC Moscow Polymetal Plant (Moscow). The plants produce nuclear fuel which is supplied in the form of fuel assemblies for different types of reactors. The fuel produced is used in nuclear power plants, propulsion reactors for the Russian fleet and research reactors.
The gas centrifuge complex comprises PJSC Kovrov Mechanical Plant (Kovrov, Vladimir region), LLC Uralpribor (Novouralsk, Sverdlovsk region), and Ural Gas Centrifuge Plant Ltd (Novouralsk, Sverdlovsk region). The complex produces gas centrifuges for the uranium enrichment enterprises and carries out research on behalf of the sublimation-separation units.
The research and development complex is principally based at the A.A. Bochvar High-Technology Scientific Research Institute for Inorganic Materials (VNIINM) in Moscow, and Novouralsk Scientific and Production Association (Novouralsk, Sverdlovsk region). It develops high performance, energy efficient, reliable and competitive equipment for nuclear facilities and improves technologies for radiochemical production and radioactive waste management.
Quality, safety and reliability are the determining parameters of the fuel fabricated by TVEL. We offer reference fuel assemblies whose characteristics and performance have been confirmed by operation in Russian nuclear plants; maximum customer focus; and a close collaboration and synergy with partners. TVEL’s nuclear fuel strategy is based on consumer needs – most importantly reliability, safety and economic efficiency.
NEI: Is JSC TVEL planning to increase its share of the nuclear fuel and uranium enrichment service markets?
YOA: Today, Rosatom’s TVEL has a 17% share of the global nuclear fuel market. Our position at this level has been stable for several years. One of the key success factors is rapid development of innovative technologies, as well as constant efforts to improve fuel safety and reduce the cost of its production. We lead the field and conduct research and development to improve the performance and customer appeal of the products, so the units we supply to our customers can be operated with the highest economic efficiency. The company remains committed to its strategic priority, which is the fullest satisfaction of our customers’ requirements. TVEL offers clients only reference product samples.
We foresee several future growth drivers. One of these is the new VVER reactors that are being manufactured and are planned for construction in Russia and abroad. Another is the TVS-Kvadrat project, which will enable TVEL to expand the geographical reach of its activities and enter a new fuel market segment for PWRs, in particular those with 17×17 fuel assemblies. In addition, of course, we are interested in strengthening our cooperation with our Chinese and Indian partners, who are committed to nuclear energy and rapidly developing it.
TVEL is actively working on the supply of zirconium products to the world market, as well as the fuel and components for the research reactors constructed abroad. The first commercial contracts have already been signed; our foreign partners are satisfied with the quality of Russian products, which fully meet their technical requirements.
With regard to the world enrichment market, the production of the enterprises is handled by two Russian companies in parallel. FC TVEL supplies its customers with ‘complete’ nuclear fuel assemblies, while JSC TENEX acts as an exporter of enriched uranium product and uranium enrichment services. In total, Russian companies’ joint share in the global enrichment market now exceeds 30%. In the coming years we expect to further strengthen our position.
NEI: Which countries does TVEL supply nuclear products at the moment and which countries are considered promising for the company in the future?
YOA: TVEL’s enterprises have been supplying fuel since the start-up of the world’s first nuclear plant, which in Russia took place over 60 years ago.
TVEL has broad competence and immense experience of fabricating nuclear fuel and fuel components for all major types of reactor. Today the geography of Russian nuclear fuel deliveries is extensive, comprising 15 countries around the world.
The company is active in Central and Eastern Europe, delivering its products to reactors of Russian design in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Finland and Bulgaria. It also supplies fuel assembles for plants in Ukraine and Armenia. We undertake projects in Asia, particularly in China and India, and also supply fuel to the Bushehr plant in Iran.
Since 1996, in cooperation with the Areva group, we have supplied fuel and components to Western Europe. Our cooperation with the French company has resulted in the supply of more than 3,500 ‘tetrahedral’ fuel assemblies, without a single complaint.
TVEL has its own fuel assembly design for 17×17 PWR reactors, based on the best technical solutions and materials used in the VVER sector. During the fuel design phase all test stages were carefully assessed and the fuel assemblies have been successfully operated in Western Europe.
In recent years TVEL has made significant progress in the US, and we now have a written alliance with Global Nuclear Fuel-Americas (GNF-A). For TVEL international business is among its strategic priorities and the company is open to cooperation with foreign global players in the fuel and fuel component market. The world market for nuclear energy is a delicate matter, one that calls for union rather than competition to obtain economic benefits.
NEI: Your recent agreement with GNF-A will ensure your entry into the US market. How does TVEL plan to develop this business?
YOA: In May this year we signed an agreement establishing a consortium between JSC TVEL and GNF-A. The purpose of this consortium is to license Russian-designed fuel for reactors of Western design in the US. Close collaboration with our US partner has allowed us to successfully complete all the necessary preparatory work and bring it into being.
The union of TVEL and GNF-A is exceptionally useful and well timed. A fundamentally new tetrahedral fuel design will appear in the US nuclear fuel market, which means an additional option for customers and the creation of a healthy and competitive environment. TVEL and our US partner will be able to combine our existing opportunities and the potential capacity for the promotion of Russian fuel in the US. We will provide the technology and the best practice related to the TVS-KVADRAT fuel, while our American partner, in turn, can provide excellent market opportunities and promote it.
The first contract has recently been signed for pilot operation with one of the US operators. As a result of our joint efforts, American operators will have access to a safe, referenced, high-performance, reliable nuclear fuel design.
The entry of TVS-KVADRAT fuel into the American market involves several stages: pilot operation of the fuel assemblies; licensing; and winning permits from the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission for bulk supply.
Pilot fuel assemblies for US nuclear plants will be manufactured at Russian production facilities. It is planned that commercial batches of the fuel will be produced in the US, at the facilities of our US partner, but it will include industrial cooperation with Russian enterprises.
The operators of US nuclear plants are encouraging our alliance with GNF-A. They see that it will broaden the choice of fuel. The recent contract for pilot operation with one of the operators is recognition of this.
TVEL takes as much responsibility for TVS-Kvadrat fuel as for VVER fuel – we have carefully and consistently passed all the stages of fuel qualification before starting its commercial supply.
NEI: Ukraine plans to diversify its supplies of nuclear fuel. What potential problems may arise here?
YOA: In Ukraine, nuclear power plays a key role in the energy balance of the country. We respect the actions of the operator of Ukrainian nuclear plants, which are aimed at improving safety. This is the exclusive responsibility of the Ukrainian State Enterprise National Nuclear Energy Generating Company, Energoatom.
In 2010, Ukraine aimed to improve energy safety by developing plans to build its own nuclear fuel fabrication plant. This is the only effective way to reduce dependence on external supplies. Unfortunately, because of the general situation in Ukraine this project is now postponed, and Ukraine is moving towards increased dependence on external supplies, and may import fuel from the US. This, in our opinion, is diversification for its own sake.
NEI: TVEL has developed TVS-KVADRAT fuel for reactors of Western design. In your opinion, what are the main markets for this fuel? Has it already been tested in Western reactors?
YOA: TVS-Kvadrat fuel for Western design reactors is the driver of our growth. This fuel is already in operation in Western Europe. We have recently passed a number of key milestones in the process of fuel supply to the US. The first results of testing are quite encouraging, and together with our partners we look forward to gaining a substantial share of the market. Many other countries are closely watching the operation of our fuel in Europe and are awaiting the official feedback on it.
The geography of supply of TVS-Kvadrat may be extensive. Nuclear plant operators will be able to gain access to another design of fuel, which is structurally, technologically and generically different from the units fabricated by Western companies. We see this as a real diversification in the PWR market.
NEI: Tianwan plant in China is considering the use of your new FA-4 fuel. How does it differ from FA-2M, which is currently used at the Chinese plant?
YOA: In order to increase the energy production and of the operating VVER-1000 units and increase its capacity factor, we are offering our VVER-1000 fuel assembly customers a fourth generation fuel, known as FA-4. The FA-4 technical project, with the greatest possible uranium capacity for the VVER-1000, was developed by OKB GIDROPRESS in collaboration with the Kurchatov Institute Research and Development Centre and JSC VNIINM, with the financial support of JSC TVEL. It is based on reference designs for Russian fuel.
FA-4 has fuel elements where the fuel pellet does not have a central hole. The result is an eight percent increase in the mass of fuel in the assembly. The use of FA-4, within an 18-month fuel cycle at a 104% capacity, will reduce the amount of feed fuel assemblies by 10% and cut the consumption of natural uranium by two percent.
We are ready to intensify work with our Chinese partners so we can carry out the fastest implementation of this type of fuel assembly at the Tianwan plant. The new fuel will significantly improve the economic performance of the plant.
In general, TVEL pays great attention to cooperation with our Chinese partners. We envision large-scale cooperation and very high quality sharing of expertise.
NEI: At the recent meeting in St Petersburg, dedicated to the development of new-generation gas centrifuges, you noted the positive dynamics of reducing the cost of separation equipment, both through organisational and engineering activities. Could you comment on this?
YOA: A significant effect was achieved by increasing the speed of the centrifuge manufacturing process, which made it possible to reduce the production costs. We have also had great success in developing a new generations of gas centrifuges. Tests of the 10th generation are about to end, and fundamental advances have been achieved in developing the 11th, which has superior features compared with previous generations.
NEI: TVEL has stated that it plans to increase its non-nuclear business. Could you tell us which markets you are targeting, in which countries and which products you are planning to supply?
YOA: Developing production of non-nuclear products is one of TVEL’s most important tasks. Between 2012 and 2015 income from key non-nuclear products has more than doubled. The main product lines are lithium and lithium products, calcium and calcium wire, titanium, zirconium products, rare earth elements, isotope production, autocatalysts and zeolite catalysts. TVEL sees potential in developing general industrial activity to consolidate and expand its position on the domestic market, and to expand sales of its products in European and other markets.
The basis of TVEL’s export potential in the non-nuclear businesses is the materials produced by its subsidiaries JSC Chepetsk Mechanical Plant (CMP), PJSC Novosibirsk Chemical Concentrates Plant (NCCP) and JSC Production Association Electrochemical Plant. In particular, high-purity calcium metal, manufactured at CMP by electrolysis, is one of the most highly sought Russian products abroad. Calcium is supplied to the US, France, Germany, India, the Netherlands, Norway, Slovakia, Bulgaria and other countries. In the near future CMP plans to enter the European market with a new product – calcium injection wire used for secondary steel refinement.
Lithium products are also in great demand abroad. The main competitive advantage of the lithium products of NCCP, Russia’s largest manufacturer of lithium products, is its chemical purity. This is because the useful properties of lithium depend on maximum purification, and removal of natural and manmade impurities. Today NCCP exports a wide range of commercial lithium products to Germany and other countries. The lithium products proceeds of NCCP may more than double by 2020 as a result of the ongoing programme of modernisation and capacity expansion.
About the author: Yury Aleksandrovich Olenin graduated from Erevan Polytechnic University’s Faculty of Radio Engineering in 1976 and from Penza State Technical University with a specialisation in Jurisprudence 20 years later. In 2002, he he received a post-doctoral degree for his thesis on radar detection and identification of low level targets. He has worked in the nuclear industry since 1978 holding a number of senior positions. He has been President of TVEL since June 2007.