Kazakhstan’s National Atomic Company Kazatomprom and Electricite de France (EDF) on 6 November concluded a contract under which Kazatomprom is to supply 4500t of natural uranium concentrates to EDF in the period from 2021 to 2025.

The commercial contract was signed during an official visit to Paris by Kazakh president Nursultan Nazarbayev. The contract, which is subject to Euratom Supply Agency approval, continues the 10-year relationship between the two companies. Kazatomprom said EDF is a "strategically important" partner for the company. During the visit, Kazatomprom CEO Askar Zhumagaliyev also met with Areva CEO Phillippe Knoche to discuss the implementation of joint projects and further cooperation.

This is the latest in a long line of agreements between Kazakhstan and France.

In 2008 Areva signed a memorandum of understanding with Kazatomprom for a range of projects. These included expanding the existing Katco uranium mining joint venture from 1500tU/yr to 4000tU/yr (with Areva handling all sales), using Areva’s engineering expertise in a second JV (49% Areva) to install a 1200t/yr fuel fabrication facility at the Ulba Metallurgical Plant, and marketing the fabricated fuel (51% Areva).

In 2009 another agreement was signed to set up the IFASTAR joint venture (Integrated Fuel Asia Star – 51% Areva) to establish the feasibility of marketing an integrated fuel supply for Asian customers (and of building a 400 t/yr nuclear fuel fabrication line at Ulba. Further agreements on fuel fabrication were signed in 2010 and 2011 but so far no real progress has been made on the project.

Japanese agreements

In late October, Kazatomprom also signed a trilateral MOU on nuclear cooperation with Japan Atomic Power Co (JAPC) and Marubeni Utility Services, Ltd for cooperation "in the field of nuclear power, including consultation, exchange in public relations experience, technical seminars and experts meeting on safety ensuring, as well as training and advanced training of nuclear specialists."

In 2010, JAPC and Marubeni Utility Services had signed a MOU with Kazakhstan’s National Nuclear Centre (NNC) for preliminary research into construction of a nuclear power plant in Kazakhstan. This was based on a 2007 cooperation agreement signed by JAPC, Atomic Energy Committee of Kazakhstan, NAC Kazatomprom and NNC to develop a nuclear power plant with a light-water reactor in Kazakhstan. Again little concrete progress has been made on the development. More detailed agreements have been reached with Russia, but these are equally prospective.

A similar lack of progress is evident with respect to plans for fuel fabrication. Kazatomprom has long sought to move from being supplier of raw materials to selling uranium as fabricated fuel assemblies. On 27 October, Kazakh President Nazarbayev told a Kazakh-Japanese business forum that Kazakhstan is "interested in supplying the world market, including Japan’s market, with uranium products with a high level of processing".

UMP, established in 1949, has produced nuclear fuel pellets from Russian-enriched uranium since 1973 for use in Russian and Ukrainian VVER and RBMK reactors. UMP is majority owned by Kazatomprom, and 34% by Russia’s TVEL. Other exports are to the USA and Asia. Since 1985 it has been able to handle reprocessed uranium, and has been making fuel pellets incorporating this for western reactors, supplied through TVEL.

In 2007 a technological assistance agreement was signed with Japan with the aim of moving towards selling its uranium as fabricated fuel or at least fuel pellets rather than just raw material. In 2010, UO2 powder for Japan was certified by Japan’s Nuclear Fuel Industries, and fuel pellets for China by China National Nuclear Corporation’s (CNNC’s) China Jianzhong Nuclear Fuel.

Ambitous fuel fabrication plans

Kazatomprom has said that it aims to supply up to one third of the world fuel fabrication market by 2030, with China as an early major customer. China General Nuclear corp (CGN) has confirmed that Kazatomprom is to become a major nuclear fuel supplier, and late in 2014 Kazatomprom said it was considering "establishing the joint Kazakhstan-Chinese production of fuel assemblies". The agreement with France for a 400t/yr fabrication line is still in place with plans for another 800 t/yr line to be wholly owned by Kazatomprom, but it is not clear when this will be built.

Kazatomprom, which owns a 10% stake in Westinghouse, is also negotiating technology transfer agreements to enable it to supply fabricated fuel for Westinghouse reactors. With France, Japan, China and Westinghouse now all in the mix for some level of participation, it remains to be seen when fuel fabrication will begin in Kazkahstan.

Photo: Yellowcake (Credit: Kazatomprom)