Bellona’s nuclear digest for March, 2023

Work at the Belarusian nuclear power plant.
Work at the Belarusian nuclear power plant.

Publish date: April 25, 2023

Written by: Bellona

An overview of developments in the nuclear industry and radiation safety linked to Russia and Ukraine.

After Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, Bellona ceased its activity in the aggressor country. However, we continue to keep track of events in the field of nuclear and radiation security relating to Russia and Ukraine which we believe will interest our readers abroad. We analyze events in order to assess the level of Russia’s international influence on other countries, and weigh up the risks connected with this.

In this issue:

Russia plans to station tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus

Russia and China consolidate cooperation in the field of fast reactors and plutonium fuel

Russia passes new foreign policy concept

Rosenergoatom sees drop in electricity generation and pure profit

Construction of Russia’s largest nuclear icebreaker faces problems because of war in Ukraine

Rosatom responds to sanctions with reverse engineering

Belarussian NPP: physical launch of second unit, report by Lithuanian special services and loan deferment

Russia continues deliveries of nuclear fuel to Europe via Finland

News on Rosatom’s foreign projects. In brief

UK delivers shells with depleted uranium to Ukraine

Westinghouse fuel for VVER-440 reactors in Ukraine may be delivered in 2023, and to Czechia in 2024

Ukraine increases localization in nuclear fuel manufacture

IAEA looks for new ways to provide security around the Zaporozhe NPP and put pressure on Russia

Events in Ukraine relating to nuclear and radiation security. In brief

Russia plans to station tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus

On 25 March, Russian president Vladimir Putin announced that Russia plans to station tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus. Putin claims this will not be a violation of the nuclear non-proliferation regime: Minsk will not be given control of the weapons. At the same time, says Putin, Russia has already helped to reequip 10 Belarussian military planes for using tactical nuclear weapons, and has given Minsk Iskander missile complexes capable of carrying these charges.

Putin and Lukashenko discussed Iskander-M complexes in June 2022, when Putin stated that Russia would give Belarus the complexes “in the coming months”. In August 2022, Lukashenko announced that Belarussian planes had been re-equipped to carry nuclear weapons.

Putin has now announced that construction of storage facilities for tactical nuclear weapons will be completed by 1 July. Training for Iskander crews was scheduled to commence on 3 April.

Putin says that this move was motivated by the UK deputy defense minister’s statement that the UK would supply Ukraine with shells containing depleted uranium, which Putin had previously called “a weapon with a nuclear component”. The UK government confirmed that ammunition with depleted uranium would be used in armor-piercing rounds for Challenger-2 tanks delivered to Ukraine. However, the governments of western countries and experts state that these rounds are used for fighting heavy tanks and armored vehicles and have no connection to nuclear weapons. Furthermore, Russia also has ammunition with depleted uranium in its arsenal.

The EU high representative for foreign affairs and security policy Josep Borrell reacted to Putin’s statement by saying that the EU was prepared to introduce new sanctions if Russia stationed tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus. A representative of the US state department informed CNN that the department would continue to monitor the situation, but clarified that the US did not see any signs that Russia was preparing to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine, and that Washington did not consider it necessary to put its own nuclear forces on alert.

Several days before Putin announced these plans, the chairman of the People’s Republic of China Xi Jinping visited Moscow. A joint statement by Russia and China was published after talks between the leaders, stating that “no nuclear powers should station nuclear weapons outside their national territories, and should withdraw all nuclear weapons stationed abroad”. Evidently, this referred to US nuclear weapons stationed in Europe. Russia has rebuked the US for stationing its tactical nuclear weapons in Europe in the past, but has never stationed its own weapons abroad before.

On 31 March at a session of the UN Security Council to discuss Russia’s plans to station tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, the Chinese representative confirmed that China opposed nuclear nations stationing nuclear weapons outside their borders, and also supported withdrawing nuclear weapons stationed in other countries. Thus, China makes no exceptions for Russia and Belarus in its statements.

During the Soviet period, nuclear weapons were stationed in Belarus, and at the moment that the USSR collapsed, the size of the nuclear arsenal remaining in Belarus was the fourth largest in the world, after Russia, the USA and Ukraine. In July 1993, independent Belarus joined the nuclear non-proliferation pact as a non-nuclear nation. The withdrawal of nuclear weapons from Belarus to Russia was completed in November 1996. The Belarussian constitution consolidated the non-nuclear status of the country, and prohibited any nuclear weapons from being stationed on the territory, but in February 2022 amendments were made that excluded this point.

Commentary by Bellona: The plans announced are in keeping with the escalating nuclear rhetoric from the presidents of Russia and Belarus in their reaction to western countries’ growing support of Ukraine and delivery of weapons. Evidently, the delivery of ammunition with depleted uranium cannot be the true reason for this decision, as the reaction to this threat is out of all proportion, and is simply being used as a propaganda trick to justify a decision that was already made.

At the same time, these plans go against the joint statements made with China, and against Russia’s condemnatory rhetoric about the US stationing nuclear weapons in Europe.

In any case, any increase in the number of locations and countries where nuclear weapons are stationed raises the risk of accidents involving nuclear material or of an accidental or intentional nuclear conflict, and hinders nuclear security and stability in the world.

Russia and China consolidate cooperation in the field of fast reactors and plutonium fuel

On 21 March, during the state visit by chairman of the People’s Republic of China Xi Jinping to Russia, a program was signed for long-term cooperation in the field of fast neutron reactors and closing the nuclear fuel cycle.

The document covers several areas at once: expanding cooperation for current projects and also realizing new projects connected with fast neutron reactors; manufacture of uranium-plutonium fuel; treating spent nuclear fuel etc. The program envisages preparing a roadmap for realization by the end of 2024.

Current fields of cooperation include a contract signed in December 2018 for delivery of fuel of highly enriched uranium for the first seven years of work for the fast CFR-600 reactor under construction in China, which will be built by the fuel company of Rosatom, TVEL. In the February digest, we wrote that according to the Royal United Service Institute of Defense and Security Studies (RUSI), Russia’s total export of nuclear fuel in 2022 increased by almost 20% owing to deliveries of this fuel.

CFR-600 reactor fuel CFR-600 nuclear fuel Credit: TVEL

Russian-Chinese cooperation in the nuclear sphere is not limited to fast reactors. Russia has already built four units with VVER-1000 reactors at the Tianwan NPP, and is currently building four units with VVER-1200 reactors, two at the Tianwan NPP and two at the Xudapu NPP.

The Pentagon is alarmed at this development of cooperation with fast reactors, as it may affect China’s ability to manufacture weapons-grade plutonium. Russia is the only country in the world that operates the powerful fast sodium-cooled reactors BN-600 and BN-800 at the Beloyarsk NPP. The latter was completely converted from uranium to uranium-plutonium MOX fuel in autumn 2022.

Commentary by Bellona: Development of Russian-Chinese cooperation in this sphere may lead to the further transfer of sensitive nuclear technologies to China. This development includes delivery of fuel for the first CFR-600 reactor or a similar second reactor which China also wishes to build, assistance in converting these reactors to plutonium MOX fuel, or even in organizing the production of this fuel in China itself. Russia has previously helped to organize fuel production in China for the VVER-1000 reactors built there.

Russia passes new foreign policy concept

On 31 March, Vladimir Putin signed a decree approving a new concept of foreign policy for the Russian Federation. The previous concept was passed in 2016.

The new document reflects the Kremlin’s present vision of the international situation and Russia’s position in the world. It envisages Russia as a center to oppose the hegemony of the USA, which is defined as the “main ideologist, organizer and executor of aggressive anti-Russian policy by the collective West”. The document also notes that Russia is interested in maintaining strategic parity and peaceful coexistence with the USA, but the prospects of this co-existence will depend on the ability of the latter to abandon its “anti-Russian policy”.

The new document lacks any mention of the Nuclear Arms Reduction Treaty with the USA, in which Putin suspended Russia’s involvement in February this year, but which played an important role in the previous concept. The new concept also does not mention the IAEA, which in the last document was given a central role in ensuring international cooperation in consolidating physical and nuclear security and opposing acts of nuclear terrorism.

The new concept gives priority to strategic containment to ensure stability, including through the use of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction.

Commentary by Bellona: The new concept reflects the ideas of Russia’s leadership about the high level of opposition to Russia and the “collective West” led by the USA, and also Russia’s intentions to rely increasingly on its own nuclear arsenal, with the aim of strategic containment of the USA and its allies.

Rosenergoatom sees drop in electricity generation and pure profit

Power generation by nuclear plants in Russia is decreasing in 2023. In the first three months of 2023 it dropped by 9% compared with generation in January-March 2022. Power Generation in March dropped by 13% compared with March last year. The plans of Rosenergoatom for 2023 predict a decrease in power generation for the year – the first time this has happened in 20 years, with the exception of the pandemic year of 2020. This is connected with the shutdown of the RBMK reactors of the first generation at the Leningrad and Kursk NPPs, and the delay in putting replacement reactors into operation.

Generation/year 2019 2020 2021 2022 2023
Generation in 1st quarter (billion KWth) 55.3


53.1 57.2 58.5 53.5
Generation in March (billion KWth) 18 17.6 20.3 20.5 17.8

The annual financial report published on 10 March by Rosenergoatom, an affiliated company of Rosatom which operates NPPs in Russia, also shows a reduction in pure profit by 17.5% compared with the previous year, despite a record turnover of 540.9 billion rubles. Pure profit dropped to 123.1 billion in 2022 compared with 149.3 billion rubles in 2021 owing to a rise in the prime cost of production. Pure turnover still remains at a record level for the company, only lagging behind last year’s figure.

Commentary by Bellona: The decrease in power generation by Russian NPPs is an expected consequence of the aging nuclear fleet of the country and the delay in replacing old facilities with new ones. At the same time, a rise in the prime cost of production may reduce Rosenergoatom’s profit and its ability to finance new construction. In the coming years the company’s indicators are unlikely to exceed the record indicators of the past few years.

Perhaps this has partly influenced the reduction in plans for building new NPPs up until 2035, and the decision to extend the work of RMBK reactors of the second generation to 50 years instead of 45, which we wrote about in the February digest, but this issue requires additional study.

Construction of Russia’s largest nuclear icebreaker faces problems owing to war in Ukraine

According to data from Kommersant, the cost of building the super-powerful nuclear icebreaker Rossiya under the 10510 “Leader” project, which previously came to 128 billion rubles, may rise by 40-60%, and the timeframe for its construction may increase. The icebreaker was supposed to be built in 2027, but there are already delays in manufacture of a number of important nodes and components, including the nuclear system, which was discussed at a meeting with the deputy head of the Ministry of industry and trade Viktor Yevtukhov on 13 March.

According to the minutes of the meeting, one of the reasons that cost has risen and the schedule for construction of the icebreaker has been extended is an interruption in deliveries of large shell sections – the ice horn, the rudder struts and A-brackets, which in 2022 were supposed to be supplied by the Ukrainian plant Energomashspetsstal, located in Kramatorsk. The plant was damaged in warfare in east Ukraine. The contract with the new manufacturer in Russia (UZTM-KARTEKS) has yet to be signed, and the schedule for delivery of parts has been preliminarily postponed to August 2025.

Rosatom purchased the Energomashspetsstal plant in 2010, and is the largest asset of Rosatom in Ukraine. Even after the annexation of the Crimea in 2014, parts were manufactured there for nuclear reactor shells, steam generators and circulation pumps for NPPs built by Rosatom in Turkey, India, Belarus and China. Before the war began in 2022 the factory was also preparing to fulfill orders for NPPs in Egypt, Hungary and Finland.

leader nuclear icebreaker A model of the Lider (Leader) nuclear icebreaker. Credit: Central Construction Bureau "Aisberg."

In the February digest we wrote about a change in Atomflot’s plans to build nuclear icebreakers. In February 2022, changes were made to the Strategy for development of the Arctic zone of the Russian Federation: only one nuclear icebreaker will be built under the Leader project, according to the new version of the strategy, instead of the three icebreakers that were previously planned. The icebreaker with a capacity of 120 MW with new two RITM-400 reactors is designed to provide year-round escort of vessels on the Northern sea route with a commercial speed of 10-12 knots for transporting hydrocarbons to foreign markets.

Commentary by Bellona: The loss of Rosatom’s largest asset in Ukraine has inevitably caused problems for the corporation’s projects. The delay in the construction of the Leader icebreaker is so far the first problem that has gained wide publicity. Additional study is required to determine how the realization of other Rosatom projects has been affected.

Rosatom responds to sanctions with reverse engineering

Rosatom’s fuel company TVEL has presented the digital service AtomReverse for full-cycle reverse engineering, including the manufacture of digital duplicates of parts, improving or optimizing constructions, preparing construction documentation, manufacturing test specimens and serial deliveries.

The chief corporate newspaper of Rosatom, “Rosatom Country” in an article on 14 March does not hide the fact that development of this technology is a response to sanctions: “it is increasingly difficult to purchases original imported parts because of the refusal of their manufacturers to cooperate. Not every node or part has an equivalent, and if it does, it may not always measure up to standards”.

TVEL states that it has provided these services for over year. It even gives examples of foreign equipment for which the service is used for studying – equipment from Siemens, nozzles from the German company Lechler, and spare parts of compressors from the Italian company Siad.

On the same day, “Rosatom Country” published a statement by the head of Rosatom Alexei Likhachev that the company is thinking about responsive measures to sanctions: “We understand that sanction pressure will increase. We are prepared for this. And we are thinking about responsible measures. Because we will never allow anyone to receive competitive advantages by using illegitimate, dishonest political levers.”

Commentary by Bellona: Perhaps reverse engineering, including the unlicensed copying of foreign models of equipment is one of Rosatom’s responses to western sanctions. However, the question remains open as to the quality of copied parts and equipment, and how this affects reliability and safety.

Belarussian NPP: physical launch of second unit, report by Lithuanian special services and loan deferment

On 25 March the reactor of the second power unit of the Belarussian NPP was shifted to the minimum controlled level of output – the reactor produced a self-sustained controlled nuclear reaction for the first time. It is planned to put the power unit into industrial operation in October 2023. The first power unit of the Belarussian NPP was put into operation in June 2021.

On 9 March the Lithuanian special services presented an annual report of threat assessment, with a separate description of the situation surrounding the Belarussian NPP, which is located just 40 km from the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius. According to data from the special services, Belarus and Rosatom have concealed incidents and defects of reactor systems in the first and second power units of the Belarussian NPP in 2022. In May 2022, control systems of unit 1 detected cracks in the welding treads of the upper woodruff keys of the reactor pressure vessel. The report cites the unofficial opinion of experts that for reliable elimination of these defects, it was necessary to dismantle the reactor, but for political reasons this decision was ruled out.

reactor vessels belarus nuclear Installing the reactor vessel of the Belarusian nuclear plant's first reactor. Credit:

Additionally, the operation of the 2nd power unit planned for 2022 was delayed for technical reasons. In early 2022, in February, changes in the chemical composition of water of the first contour were detected, and the water was found to be contaminated with tar. The fuel had to be removed and the pipes of the first contour had to be cleaned mechanically.

In March it was also decided to delay by a year the payment of a loan issued by Russia to Belarus for construction of the Belarussian NPP. Payments on the loan totaling around USD 10 billion were to begin in 1 April 2023, but have now been postponed to April 2024.

Commentary by Bellona: Delays in the launch of the second power unit and the temporary shutdown of the first power unit of the Belarussian NPP do indeed show the technical problems at the plant, which the Lithuanian special services have also noted. The decisions to defer the loan payment show the serious dependence of Belarus on Russia, and the major levers of influence which also affect other issues, including Belarus’ readiness to station Russian nuclear weapons on its territory.

Russia continues deliveries of nuclear fuel to Europe via Finland

Russia has been delivering nuclear fuel to Europe via Finland. “Fresh nuclear fuel sent from Russia was delivered via Finland. The loading was carried out at Helsinki-Vantaa airport on Saturday, 18 March, into a cargo plane,” according to a blog by a representative of the department for monitoring nuclear waste at the Finnish state center of radiation safety (STUK). The destination of the cargo was not specified.

For decades, fresh nuclear fuel was sent to Finland from Russia for the Loviisa NPP, so this is a well-established operation. What is new is that the fuel is now being transported via Finland to other European countries. The war in Ukraine and related sanctions against Russia prevent direct air transportation from Russia to the EU. The sanctions do not apply to the fresh nuclear fuel itself.

Transit began in autumn last year, and in November Russian nuclear fuel destined for Slovakia was sent by plane from the town of Lappeenranta 20 km from the Russian border.

Commentary by Bellona: There are no sanctions against the delivery of Russian nuclear fuel to Europe, so this operation is legitimate. But as Finland unilaterally cancelled the Russian project for building the Hanhikivi NPP after Russia invaded of Ukraine, it seems strange that the country is prepared to act as a transit zone for the transportation of Russian nuclear fuel.

News on Rosatom’s foreign projects. In brief

On 15 March, equipment from Russia for the Ruppur NPP in Bangladesh was delivered to the sea port of Mongla by the vessel MV Aparajita. Previously, delivery of equipment to Bangladesh has encountered difficulties, as we wrote in the last digest, since the country joined the US sanctions against commercial vessels from Russia. At the first power unit of the NPP work was completed in early March on concrete reinforcement of the dome with a protective shell and the installation of a transport lock.

On 21 March the first delivery of large-size equipment was made to the El-Dabaa NPP in Egypt, including a melt trap for the first unit. There is certain indirect evidence that the delivery may have been carried out by the BALTIC LEADER vessel, which seized in France back in February 2022 under US sanctions. On 29 March, a license was also issued to build the third power unit at the El-Dabaa NPP.

Delivery and manufacture of equipment continues for the four VVER-1200 power units under construction at two sites in China – the Tianwan and Xudapu NPPs. In March, TSPTI (an affiliated structure of Rosatom) delivered zeolite filters for unit №7 of the Tianwan NPP. The Petrozavodsk office of AEM-technologies began delivery of first contour collectors for the steam generators of power unit №4 at the Xudapu NPP. The Atommash plant has manufactured the lower semi-shell of the nuclear reactor for power unit №8 of the Tianwan NPP.

For the Akkuyu NPP in Turkey, on 13 March the first of two low pressure heaters for the first power unit was delivered. At the site itself, assembly of the roof of the machine hall of the first unit was completed on 10 March. And in early March at the national research university Moscow energy institute, a work meeting was held with representatives of Akkuyu Nuclear, to discuss personnel training for the Akkuyu NPP. In 2023, under the personnel training program for the NPP, it is planned to select 40 students for masters’ programs at Russian universities. Almost 300 Turkish engineers who have been trained in Russia are already working on construction of the plant.

On 1 March V/O Isotope (part of the division of Rusatom Helskea) signed new contracts for delivery of medical isotopes, generators of technetium-99m GT-5K to the Republic of Armenia, and generators of germanium-68 / gallium-68 to the Republic of Kazakhstan.

On 29 March, Russia and Nicaragua signed an agreement on cooperation in the sphere of non-energy use of nuclear technologies, in particular in medicine and agriculture.

On 30 March, the affiliate company of Rosatom NovaWind, which works in the field of wind energy, signed an agreement with Primus Advanced Technologies Ltd (Myanmar) on cooperation to build wind power systems in Myanmar with a total capacity of 172 MW.

el dabaa fuel deliever Nuclear fuel delivery to the El Dabaa nuclear plant in Egypt. Credit: Nuclear Power Plants Authority of Egypt.

UK delivers shells with depleted uranium to Ukraine

On 20 March, the deputy defense minister of Great Britain Annabelle Goldie stated in response to a parliamentary inquiry that along with the delivery of Challenger 2 tanks, London was preparing to send armor-piercing rounds to Ukraine containing depleted uranium, as these rounds were highly effective “in defeating modern tanks and armored vehicles”.

This news caused an uproar in the Russian leadership, with Putin going so far to declare that the “collective West” was using weapons with a “nuclear component”, and several days later he announced a plan to station Russian nuclear weapons in Belarus.

Depleted uranium is a side product of the nuclear industry, formed in the enrichment of uranium. It has a reduced quantity of the uranium-235 isotope, and the general radioactivity is approximately 60% lower than natural uranium. The high density and solidity of metallic uranium means it has found application as the core of armor-piercing subcaliber shells, and its radioactive qualities are not an affecting factor.

This ammunition is in the arsenal of the USA, the UK, Germany, France and Russia itself. It is not a type of nuclear weapon and is not banned by any international restrictions and conventions. It has been used widely in military conflicts over the last 30 years. According to data from the World Health Organization, around 300 tonnes of depleted uranium was used by NATO forces in the Gulf War in 1991 and around 10 tonnes in the war in Yugoslavia in 1999.

Depleted uranium presents a chemical and radioactive danger when it enters the body. In the form of dust, it may present a health hazard to crews of tanks damaged by these shells, or residents of territories subjected to environmental pollution in military conflicts. However, at present there is no precise scientific data showing a clear link between the use of this ammunition and a subsequent rise in disease in the population in these regions.

Commentary by Bellona: Regardless of the military effectiveness of ammunition containing depleted uranium, its mass use in Ukraine may cause environmental pollution, and make it necessary to rehabilitate territories and study the influence on people’s health in regions of warfare using this ammunition. Compared to other ecological risks caused by the war, this issue may not be of primary importance, but it still requires special investigation and attention.

Westinghouse fuel for VVER-440 reactors in Ukraine may be delivered in 2023, and to Czechia in 2024

Ukraine plans to receive the first delivery of nuclear fuel manufactured by the American company Westinghouse for VVER-440 reactors this year, the head of the state inspection board of nuclear regulation of Ukraine Oleg Korikov reported at a briefing on 9 March 2023. As he said, at present “a licensing manufacturer has practically been organized for nuclear fuel which can be used in VVER-1000 reactors, and currently the fuel is being delivered to Ukrainian NPPs. The level of readiness for VVER-440s is not so high, but by the end of year the delivery of the Westinghouse fuel is planned for VVER-440 power units”.

Westinghouse Electric Company and the Spanish company Enusa in January 2023 signed an agreement on cooperation for the manufacture of fuel for the VVER-440 reactors. Enusa plans to complete construction of the production line of the new fuel at the Juzbado factory and receive a license in 2023, which according to its data will allow it to begin fuel deliveries in early 2024. It is expected that Westinghouse and Enusa will manufacture fuel at their plants in Västerås, Sweden, and Juzbado, Spain.

VVER-440 fuel is not only planned to be provided for Ukrainian plants. On 29 March 2023, Westinghouse Electric Company and the Czech company ČEZ signed an agreement on the delivery of VVER-440 fuel rod arrays for the Dukovany NPP. Westinghouse will begin to deliver fuel in 2024, replacing the present supplier, the company TVEL, for a proposed period of seven years. Previously, on 22 November 2022, Westinghouse signed an agreement with the Finnish company Fortum for the design, licensing and delivery of fuel for two VVER-440 units of the Loviisa NPP. Additionally, on 28 June 2022, Westinghouse signed an agreement with ČEZ for deliveries of fuel road arrays for VVER-1000 power units of the Temelin NPP in Czechia, and from 22 December 2022, a ten-year contract with the Kozlodui NPP in Bulgaria for the manufacture and delivery of VVER-1000 nuclear fuel for the fifth power unit.

Commentary by Bellona: the lack of tested and mass-produced fuel for VVER-440 reactors of western manufacture is a problem for several European countries besides Ukraine, which are trying to move away from Russian deliveries – such as Czechia, Finland or Slovakia. Accelerating processes for testing and introducing new fuel in two power units of the Rovno NPP in Ukraine, on the one hand, will make it possible to make a change of supplier, but on the other requires additional attention for quality implementation of all testing and certification procedures within a short timeframe.

Ukraine increases localization in nuclear fuel manufacture

On 16 March 2023, the president of Energoatom Petro Kotin and the Ukraine energy minister German Galushchenko made a work visit to the Ukrainian plant where components of fuel rods will be manufactured for Ukrainian nuclear power units. The components will be used for manufacturing nuclear fuel for the Energoatom NPP at the Westinghouse plant in Vasteras.

Cooperation between Energoatom and Westinghouse for the manufacture of nuclear fuel began in August 2018. The American partner began the qualification of one of the separate divisions of Energoatom as a supplier of fuel rod arrays. In 2019-2020 work was organized for their manufacturer for fuel rods of Westinghouse Electric Sweden AB.

In April 2022, the first delivery of head components was sent to Westinghouse for qualification. Currently the manufacture of shells of fuel rod arrays for nuclear reactors are scheduled for operation and lines of assembly of nuclear fuel of Ukrainian manufacture. Energoatom is completing the process of licensing nuclear fuel components, and in 2023 the company plans to start their industrial production. According to Petro Kotin, two years ago Energoatom took the

“In three years we plan to reach a full cycle for manufacturing nuclear fuel in Ukraine. 2026 is the year when we will be able to manufacture our Ukrainian fuel out of components manufactured here. And we will purchase elements that we cannot manufacture from our partners,” the Energoatom president said.

Petr Kotin Haluschenko Energoatom Energoatom's Petr Kotin and Ukrainian energy minister, Herman Haluschenko, on a visit to a Ukrainian company making fuel assemblies. Credit: Energoatom

On 19 March, Energoatom and the Canadian company Cameco signed an agreement to provide stable deliveries of nuclear fuel. Under the first contact, which we mentioned in the February digest, from 2024 to 2035 Cameco will provide 100% of the needs of Energoatom for natural uranium hexafluoride, delivering it along with services for converting uranium for Ukrainian reactors. Another agreement envisages that Energoatom will sell Canada all of its uranium which is produced by the mining enrichment combine (SxidGZK) in Ukraine. Cameco will provide the conversion of Ukrainian uranium.

Energoatom president Petro Kotin announced that the signing of these two contracts opens the way to signing a third contract stipulating specific volumes of delivering uranium production. This document will be prepared and signed over the course of next month.

Commentary by Bellona: Ukraine is gradually strengthening partnership with western companies to withdraw from Russian services and deliveries in the nuclear sphere, and developing its own nuclear industry. In the post-war period, this may enable Ukraine to join the supply chains for other European countries with similar VVER Soviet reactors

IAEA looks for new ways to provide security around the Zaporozhe NPP and put pressure on Russia

On 22 March, IAEA head Rafael Grossi, speaking at a meeting of the US Council of International Relations, discussed publicly for the first time a change in approach in attempts to create a security zone around the Zaporozhe NPP. This is not a discussion about the specific demilitarized territory around the plant, he said, as it will be difficult to ensure and control this boundary in a region of warfare. Instead, he proposes to concentrate on protection of the plant itself. Previously both the Ukrainian and Russian sides reported that negotiations of a security zone around the station had reached an impasse.

A week later, on 28 March, Rafael Grossi visited the Zaporozhe NPP, where in response to journalists’ questions he clarified his ideas: “Now the concept is evolving, it’s refocusing more on the protection itself and the things that should be avoided, for example, in order to protect the plant, rather than on territorial aspects, which pose certain problems.”

It has yet to be revealed what exactly Grossi meant by specific measures to protect the plant. It is also unclear how there will be a practical realization of what Grossi calls the principle allegedly agreed on by the two sides that the plant should not be attacked, and should not be used to attack others.

We should add that within the IAEA, pressure continues on Russia from individual countries. At a meeting of the Managing board of the IAEA held in March, no resolutions were made condemning Russia’s actions (previously three of these resolutions were made), but on 13 March Canada’s representative presented an open statement signed by representatives of 51 countries and Euroatom, listing charges against Russia and its actions concerning nuclear security in Ukraine, and also with a call to IAEA members to take individual responsive measures against Russia within IAEA. These measures include:

1) an appeal to the IAEA requesting the agency not to use voluntary extra-budgetary contributions to finance events that directly benefit Russia;

2) a refusal to participate in IAEA events held in Russia;

3) expressing serious concern about the participation of high-ranking Russian officials in events held under the aegis of the IAEA.

Commentary by Bellona: The diplomatic effects of the head of the IAEA have yet to led to tangible results to create a security zone around the Zaporozhe NPP, and the main stabilizing factor on the part of the IAEA remains only an observing mission of the agency at Ukrainian NPPS, and also assistance in deliveries of necessary equipment as part of international aid from donor countries of the IAEA. While the agency itself and its head maintain neutrality towards participants of the war in Ukraine, IAEA members are looking for ways of pressuring Russia within the organization. But so far, they have had no success.

Events in Ukraine relating to nuclear and radiation security. In brief

On 2 March, another rotation of IAEA experts at the Zaporozhe NPP took place, with a delay of one month. This is the sixth rotation of the IAEA group at the plant so far. IAEA inspectors have been present at other NPPS in Ukraine since January 2023.

On 6 March, Rafael Grossi, in an opening address to the IAEA Board of Governors, stated that over the past few weeks there has been an increasing security presence at the site, and increases in military action near the facility. He added that there was open discussion of offensives and counter offensives in the vicinity of the site; that since November the IAEA had made five deliveries of donated and procured equipment to different organizations in Ukraine. Grossi also noted that the IAEA continues to undertake safeguards verification in Ukraine, and can confirm that nuclear material under safeguards continue to be used in peaceful activity, and that safeguarded facilities are not being used for undeclared production or processing of nuclear material.

On 7 March, Russia sent an information bulletin to IAEA, reporting that construction had been completed for a protective system on a site for the dry storage of spent nuclear fuel, reducing the risk of damage by shelling. With the assistance of Rosatom representatives, power lines of 330 kW were restored for the Melitopolskaya, Kakhovkskaya and Molochanskaya distribution substations on territories controlled by Russia. Restring the distribution network of the Zaporozhe NPP will help to connect the plant to the Russian energy system. According to data of 27 February, 2,894 people have signed a contract with the Russian legal entity of the Zaporozhe NPP.

On 9 March, the Zaporozhe NPP lost its external power supply for 11 hours. According to Energoatom, at 3:53 a.m., the last power line connecting the ZNPP with the power networks of Ukraine was cut off owing to a missile strike, and the plant was switched off from the grid for the sixth time since the occupation began. 18 diesel generators were used to provide for the plant’s own requirements. Units №5 and №6, which were in semi-hot shutdown mode, began to cool down, but after the external power supply was restored they were returned to semi-hot shutdown. Additionally, the three other NPPs in Ukraine reduced their output because of a threat of missile strikes.

On 29 March the head of the IAEA Rafael Grossi visited the Zaporozhe NPP, to assist the seventh rotation of IAEA experts at the plant. During the visit Grossi personally examined the damage to the plant that took place during the last strike in November 2022.

Prior to the visit, on 27 March, Grossi and Ukrainian President Volodymir Zelensky visited the Dnepr hydroelectric plant in Zaporozhe, which was damaged in shelling by Russia. The Dnepr plant is located further upstream on the Dnepr by the Kakhovskoe water reservoir, where the Zaporozhe NPP is located, and is an important element of the energy hub of the region. In Zaporozhe, from where the IAEA mission subsequently crossed the frontline to visit the NPP, Grossi held another round of talks with the Ukrainian leadership on ensuring security for the nuclear power sites of the country.

Commentary by Bellona: Although there has been no direct shelling of the Zaporozhe NPP site since last November, the latest power cut on 9 March shows the plant’s vulnerability and the continuing risks of nuclear and radiation incidents and accidents there. Risks also remain for other NPPs in Ukraine owing to missile strikes on the country’s energy infrastructure. The diplomatic efforts by the IAEA to protect the captured Zaporozhe NPP have still not had any result.