Slovak power utility Slovenské Elektrárne (SE) has signed a contract with US-based Westinghouse to supply of nuclear fuel Slovakia’s NPPs. This followed an international tender for the supply of nuclear fuel and related services throughout the supply chain for the production of nuclear fuel. SE says the aim of the agreement is to diversify the supply of nuclear fuel for VVER 440 power plants in Slovakia.

“Securing another nuclear fuel supplier for our power plants is an important step in strengthening Slovakia’s energy security. Nuclear power plants represent an important pillar in our country's energy mix, therefore I consider it to be crucial to secure nuclear fuel supply diversification for their stable operation,” said SE Director General Branislav Strýček.

Slovakia operates five VVER-440 nuclear power units at two NPP sites – Mochovce 1,2&3 and Bohunice 3&4. A sixth unit, Mochovce 4, still under construction, is expected to be connected next year. Previously fuel for Slovakia’s NPPs was supplied by Russia’s TVEL, but in line with European policy Slovakia is seeking to diversify suppliers.

According to SE, the first fuel supplies from Westinghouse are expected within approximately one year after approval for use of the fuel is received from the regulator. “The fuel supplied by Westinghouse Electric Sweden must first undergo the licensing process, to approve its use in Slovak power plant reactors, as part of which it must be demonstrated that its use will be safe,” SE noted.

Slovakia’s diversification strategy is to have at least two alternative nuclear fuel suppliers and several potential suppliers of materials and services throughout the supply chain, SE said.

“We are very pleased to contribute to Slovakia’s fuel diversification and to strengthen our long-standing partnership with Slovenské Elektrárne,” said Tarik Choho, Westinghouse President of Nuclear Fuel. “We offer the only fully-Western alternative fuel for this type of reactor and remain committed to supporting Slovakia’s operating fleet, leveraging our Swedish fabrication footprint."

Westinghouse had earlier developed fuel for VVER-1000 reactors, but the design for VVER-440 fuel is still under development. At the end of 2022, Spain’s Enusa Industrias Avanzadas and Westinghouse formalised a cooperation agreement regarding the manufacture of VVER-440 fuel. Enusa began to reinstall a production line for this product at its Juzbado factory with the aim of licensing it in 2023 to make possible fuel deliveries from the beginning of 2024.

Through this agreement, Westinghouse and Enusa will manufacture the fuel using their factories at Västerås, in Sweden, and Juzbado (Salamanca), in Spain, as supply contracts are signed.

Westinghouse and Enusa have partnered since 1974 under a Pressurised-Water Reactor (PWR) fuel technology transfer agreement supporting plants in Spain, Belgium, and France among others. In 1999, British Nuclear Fuels Ltd (BNFL) bought Westinghouse’s commercial nuclear power businesses. Between 2001 and 2007, BNFL/Westinghouse delivered a total of 741 VVER-440 fuel assemblies to Fortum’s Loviisa NPP in Finland, which were manufactured by Enusa in Spain.

The fuel assembly design – NOVA E-3 (fixed assembly) and NOVCA (follower) – was developed in 1996-98 in a programme involving BNFL (UK), IVO (Finland) and PAKS (Hungary). The programme included extensive testing and qualification of the new design. In 1998, the manufacturing of five Lead Test Assemblies at Springfields, UK, was completed and the fuel was delivered for insertion in Loviisa unit 2.

These designs were integrated into the Westinghouse fuel product portfolio, and all the intellectual property for the VVER-440 fuel was transferred from BNFL to Westinghouse in 2005-2006 when Westinghouse was purchased by Toshiba. However, the Loviisa fuel contract was not renewed and Westinghouse withdrew from the market in 2008, and closed down the supply chain and development of the VVER-440 design.

In 2014 reactivation of the VVER-440 market was reconsidered and Westinghouse, in a consortium comprising nine organisations, applied for a Euratom funded programme for diversification of the VVER fuel market in Europe. It was granted €2m in 2015 to run the European Supply of Safe Nuclear Fuel (ESSANUF) HORIZON 2020 project. Both Enusa and Westinghouse worked together on the ESSANUF project in 2015-2017.

Others involved in ESSANUF included VUJE (Slovakia), UJV Rez (Czech Republic), Lappeenranta University of Technology (Finland), UK National Nuclear Laboratory, NucleoCon (Slovakia), Kharkiv Institute of Physics & Technology, and the European Commission Joint Research Centre in Karlsruhe (JRC-Karlsruhe). The project was funded under the Euratom Research & Training Programme (2014-2018), which is part of the EU Research & Innovation Framework Horizon 2020."

In June, France's Framatome said it had been asked by all European VVER operating utilities – including SE – to work together on the development of fuel for VVER-440 pressurised water reactors.


Image (from left to right): Aziz Dag, Senior Vice President & Managing Director, Westinghouse Electric Sweden; Lukáš Maršálek, Deputy Director for Accounting, Finance & Control Department, Slovenské Elektrárne; Tarik Choho, Westinghouse President of Nuclear Fuel; and Branislav Strýček, Director General, Slovenske Elektrárne at the signing ceremony (courtesy of Slovenské Elektrárne)