WASHINGTON, Feb 1 (Reuters) - U.S. nuclear power reactors will be able to obtain more supplies of Russian enriched uranium for fuel, under a trade deal signed by the two countries late on Friday.
The agreement will provide U.S. utilities with a reliable supply of nuclear fuel by allowing Russia to boost exports export to the United States while minimizing any disruption to the United States’ domestic enrichment industry.
“The agreement will encourage bilateral trade in Russian uranium products for peaceful purposes,” said U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez. “It will also help to ensure that U.S. utilities have an adequate source of enriched uranium for U.S. utility consumers.
Gutierrez and Russian Federal Atomic Energy Agency Director Sergey Kiriyenko signed the deal allowing for sales of Russian enriched uranium directly to U.S. utilities. Before the agreement, such direct transactions were not permitted.
For years, the U.S. government has restricted Russian uranium shipments, fearing Russia would dump uranium in the U.S. market and financially hurt the major American uranium supplier, USEC Inc USU.N.
A spokesman for the Russia’s Atomic Energy Agency said with the new trade deal “the volumes of direct deliveries of uranium enrichment services may total 20 percent of the market, so one in every five atomic stations in the U.S. will work thanks to the import of Russian uranium enrichment services.”
Under the deal, Russian uranium exports to the United States would increase slowly over a 10-year period, beginning in 2011, when shipments would be allowed to reach 16,559 tons.
Exports would then increase about 50 percent annually over the next two years and increase more than tenfold from 41,398 tons in 2013, when the current “Megatons to Megawatts” program expires, to 485,279 tons the next year.
Shipments would increase at much slower rates in each of the following six years, until reaching 514,754 tons in 2020.
Under the “Megatons to Megawatts” program, enriched uranium from dismantled Russian nuclear weapons is imported by USEC and processed into fuel to run American nuclear power reactors.
USEC has said it does not object to the deal as long as Russian uranium does not jeopardize existing company facilities and the various new projects underway.
Owners of U.S. nuclear power reactors bought 67 million pounds of uranium in 2006. About 16 percent came from the United States and the rest, 56 million pounds, came from foreign suppliers, according to the Energy Department. (Editing by Doina Chiacu)