Ukraine to import US nuclear fuel

According to media reports (ITAR-TASS article) Ukraine plans to import nuclear fuel for its nuclear power plants in future from the US based company Westinghouse, thus replacing nuclear fuel originating from Russia. Ukrainian state owned company Energoatom and Westinghouse, which biggest owner is the Japanese Toshiba group, have signed an agreement on nuclear fuel delivery by Westinghouse until 2020 a few days ago. Deployment of US nuclear fuel is planned to start in South-Ukraine.

The Russian foreign ministry criticizes the planned use of US nuclear fuel as dangerous experiment, since the Ukrainian Soviet made nuclear reactors (VVER) were initially not designed for US made nuclear fuel. Russian media claims that the Czech nuclear power plant Temelín with the same reactor type experiences problems with Westinghouse nuclear fuel.

While Kiev’s efforts to reduce dependency on Russia appear understandable in the light of current political relations, there are indeed hints that switching to another type of nuclear fuel might not be without trouble. The Temelín nuclear power plant allegedly suffers under regular problems and in comparison with Russian or other countries’ nuclear power plants it has a significantly lower level of reliability. A quick view on certain aspects regarding the design of the VVER reactor and Westinghouse’s pressurized water reactor shows that both reactor types need different kind nuclear fuel rods. An open question for now remains how the use of a different fuel type can exactly affect on the safe operation of a nuclear reactor.

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