September 6, 2019 / 4:55 PM / 3 months ago

Rosatom says close to signing contract for Uzbekistan nuclear reactors

* Uranium producer Uzbekistan is new to civil nuclear

* Commercial deal to follow intergovernment agreements

* No site chosen yet for project worth about $11 billion

By Geert De Clercq

PARIS, Sept 6 (Reuters) - Russian nuclear reactor builder Rosatom is close to signing a commercial contract to building two nuclear reactors in Uzbekistan, Rosatom’s head of international business said.

Uzbekistan, a central Asian republic formerly part of the Soviet Union, signed a first intergovernmental agreement with Russia in 2017 for cooperation in civil nuclear, followed by a second intergovernmental agreement in September 2018 for the construction of two VVER-1200 Rosatom reactors.

Such agreements are precursors to signing commercial contracts that specify the price, construction timing and other key provisions such as the degree of local companies’ participation, as well as nuclear fuel delivery and recycling.

“We have a very good chance to sign a commercial contract for the construction of the plant within a short time period,” Rosatom deputy CEO and head of international business Kirill Komarov told Reuters at the World Nuclear Association (WNA) annual conference on Friday.

Uzbekistan does not have nuclear plants but the country is the world’s 7th biggest uranium producer with 2018 output of 2,404 tonnes, WNA data show.

Last year, Uzbekistan started a geological survey to decide on a location for the project, which Moscow estimates will cost $11 billion, largely financed by a Russian loan at preferential rates.

Last year, Uzbekistan said it expected to pour first concrete no earlier than 2020 because of the project’s complexity, with first power production expected in 2028.

Uzbekistan generates most of its electricity from gas turbines. The nuclear plant will allow the country to use more of its gas for other purposes, such as producing chemicals or export.

State-owned Rosatom has become global leader in building new nuclear plants, with a foreign order book worth more than $133 billion. Rivals U.S. Westinghouse and French Framatome have faced financial challenges, while China has limited experience building reactors abroad.

Over the past 14 years, the Russian firm has built 15 reactors at home and abroad, including in China, India and Iran.

It has nuclear projects in several stages of negotiation or construction in countries including Belarus, Bangladesh, Turkey, Finland, Hungary and Egypt.

“Our primary competitive advantage is serial construction of nuclear plants, repeating the same design as often as possible,” Komarov said.

Unlike Western rivals, Rosatom not only builds the reactors but it can also offer financing, staff training, nuclear fuel and spent-fuel disposal, all valuable when selling nuclear to developing countries.

Reporting by Geert De Clercq; Editing by Edmund Blair

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