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Russia says Siberian uranium enrichment center open to all

ANGARSK, October 25 (RIA Novosti) - Any country interested in secure uranium deliveries for energy generation is welcome to join a project to build an international uranium enrichment center in east Siberia, a first deputy prime minister said on Thursday.

The center, part of Moscow's non-proliferation initiative to create a network of enrichment centers under the UN nuclear watchdog's supervision, will be based at a chemical plant in Angarsk. The center will also be responsible for the disposal of nuclear waste.

"So far we have only cooperated with our Kazakh partners in this field," Sergei Ivanov said.

Russia and its ex-Soviet neighbor Kazakhstan, which holds 15% of the world's uranium reserves, signed documents in October 2006 to establish their first joint venture to enrich uranium, intended to begin in 2013.

Ivanov said a board of directors had already been formed and a general director appointed for the relevant open joint stock company.

The Russian-Kazakh agreement and founding documents envision the participation of other countries as well. "This is only a beginning, and we still have to do a lot, the more so considering that other countries have shown interest [in the project]," he said.

Ukraine's Fuel and Energy Ministry said in June that the country intended to join the project in the near future.

Ivanov said that due to the depletion of hydrocarbon reserves, the world is increasingly looking to nuclear energy as an alternative. He added that oil and gas supplies were highly contingent on military and political situations, which have been unstable of late in the main producing regions. "And the trend is not improving," Ivanov added.

Many countries have adjusted their power generation programs, increasing their overall use of nuclear energy. "The amount of nuclear power generation in Russia is not great, only 15% , with 80% in France and 30% in Germany, but Russia will build two nuclear power units annually in order to increase its share to 27% by 2030," the first deputy prime minister said.

Russia currently accounts for 40% of the world's enrichment facilities, he added.

Russian President Vladimir Putin first raised the idea of joint nuclear enrichment centers early last year, in a bid to calm tensions over Iran's controversial nuclear program. The president said the centers would give countries transparent access to civilian nuclear technology without provoking international fears that enriched uranium could be used for covert weapons programs.

Ivanov said fuel for nuclear power plants was a market product and any country represented in the International Atomic Energy Agency that was also signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty had the right to buy it.

"But this is only in theory," Ivanov said. "Due to a variety of political reasons, a country may be denied access to uranium."

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