Romania consolidates its nuclear sector in wake of uranium company collapse

25 March 2021

Romania’s state-owned nuclear utility Nuclearelectrica is taking measures to integrate its nuclear fuel production, Energy Minister Virgil Popescu said on 23 March. This came after Nuclearelectrica said in a statement filed with the Bucharest Stock Exchange (BVB) on 19 March that it had signed an agreement to acquire some assets within the uranium concentrate processing line at the Feldioara facility owned by the National Uranium Company (Compania Na?ionala a Uraniului - CNU). The strategic decision to acquire part of Feldioara's assets necessary for the processing and refining of the raw material from which the U3O8 required for the manufacture of fuel assemblies is obtained, is aimed at ensuring Nuclearelectrica's integrated production capabilities, the company said.

The deal also aims to ensure the optimal operation of Nuclearelectrica’s Fabrica de Combustibil Nuclear fuel fabrication plant in Pitesti (FCN Pitesti) and of the Cernavoda NPP, given plans to expand the plant, and will help maintain the nuclear fuel cycle at an advantageous transaction cost, Nuclearelectrica explained. The agreement, signed on 18 March, consists only of assets - land, buildings, special constructions, installations, machinery and equipment in Feldioara, and excludes the uranium mining activity there, Nuclearelectrica added in the statement to BVB. Nuclearelectrica reportedly will acquire the assets for €9 million ($10.6m).

However, Popescu said Nuclearelectrica will also receive, by transfer, free of charge, from CNU, the licence for the exploitation of uranium ore, and will begin exploitation of a new mine at Tulghes. Meanwhile, the existing Crucea uranium mine, which is exhausted, will be closed and decommissioned. 

CNU, established in 1997, has been in financial difficulty for some time and has recently been facing strikes by the miners over the planned closure of the mine, its insolvency and non-payment of salaries. Romania’s attempts to restructure the company have conflicted with the European Commission’s ((EC’s) state aid rules with the EC rejecting successive restructuring plans in 2017, 2018 and 2019. In February the EC found that the various Romanian public support measures for CNU “are not in line with EU rules on State aid to companies in difficulty”. It added: “As a result, Romania cannot implement the support measures envisaged in the restructuring plan. It must also recover €13 million of incompatible rescue aid that CNU received in 2016, plus interest.” It further said that if CNU was unable to pay back the aid, “it should in principle cease economic activities and eventually be liquidated, with its productive assets being acquired by other companies”.

Popescu essentially said that Nuclearelectrica would take over all the activities of CNU.The uranium mine at Crucea will be closed because it is depleted, “but the miners there will not lose their jobs”, he noted. Labour will be needed for the closure process, and for the new mine that will be opened in Tulghes-Grinties, he explained. He added that he had held discussions with parliamentarians who had supported the striking miners. "They understood that the problem of the nuclear sector in Romania must be solved and we will solve it and we are close to completion. We will open the Tulghes-Grinties mine, another uranium mine. All these things, together with the processing factory from Feldioara, will be done by Nuclearelectrica. Basically at Nuclearelectrica we will have an integrated nuclear sector, we will have uranium ore extraction, its processing, the fuel plant and the production of energy from a nuclear facility.”

Romania’s Cernavoda NPP currently comprises two Candu 6 reactors supplied by Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd (AECL), now Candu Energy, and built by a Canadian-Italian consortium of AECL and Ansaldo. The site was originally planned for five units. Cernavoda 1 started up in 1996, but work on the others was suspended in 1991. Cernavoda 2 was subsequently completed and began operation in 2007. Both units are 700MWe Candu pressurised heavy water reactors, meeting around 20% of Romania's electricity needs. Romania is now planning to build two more units at the site.

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