MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti commentator Tatyana Sinitsyna) - Among seven agreements signed in Beijing by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, the most impressive and sensitive is no doubt the nuclear agreement.
According to Sergei Kiriyenko, head of Russia's Federal Nuclear Power Agency, or Rosatom, "the total worth of nuclear contracts signed in Beijing is more than $1.5 billion."
In matters nuclear, China is Russia's traditional strategic partner. Cooperation develops along many lines. Last fall, Russian specialists completed building two VVER-1000 reactors at the Tianwan nuclear power plant and linked them to the Chinese national grid. Today's discussions concern a second stage - the construction of units No. 3 and No. 4. Remarkably, Russia is offering its best reactors - the safest in the world and economical at reasonable price.
Under the new Beijing arrangements, Russia is to provide uranium enrichment services and help China build the fourth stage of its gas centrifuge plant (three are already in operation). With the additional capacities, the Chinese will be able to increase their output of enriched uranium required for making nuclear reactor fuel rods. This will cut fuel prices and make the country less dependent on outside enrichment services. China is currently experiencing critical power shortages, which have made it embark on an intensive nuclear construction program: in the next two decades it plans to build 20 nuclear plants.
But speaking of Russia's interests, won't its competitive ability be hurt by sharing a high-tech nuclear product with its neighbors? The technology behind gas centrifuges that enrich uranium was classified until recently, but some of the models no longer carry a security rating and are now freely exported. Under the new contract, China will, as before, receive sixth-generation gas centrifuges (without a technology transfer). Russia itself is using the latest eighth-generation centrifuges at its uranium enrichment plants and is working on more advanced models.
Uranium-enriching gas centrifuges are produced by the Kovrov mechanical plant in the Vladimir Region. Few countries have been able to create such a high-tech product. For the moment, overseas companies are using more power-consuming gas diffusion techniques for uranium enrichment.
U.S. engineers have been working on the American Centrifuge project for several years, but still have nothing to write home about: its launch keeps getting postponed. Nor did the French giant AREVA manage to master the centrifuge technology. In the meantime, the Russian Centrifuge project is making strong headway, continuing to win new segments of the world market, particularly in China.
Another reason why Russia will benefit from the agreement is that it has concluded a long-term contract to supply 6 million SWUs, or separation work units, of low-enriched uranium to China, which makes it possible to estimate the cost of obtaining one kilogram of low-enriched uranium. This is an impressive figure, considering that the world's total uranium enrichment capacities amount to 36 million SWUs.
According to Kiriyenko, "6 million SWUs of low-enriched uranium in the next ten years is a strong boost to the Russian presence on the Chinese market." Another benefit is more orders for Russia's centrifuge building industry (for now its capacities are running ahead of the country's requirements).
In addition to the gas centrifuge program, Russia is also going to implement another key nuclear project: a high-capacity fast-breeder reactor. It is now a matter of immediate concern, and talks on it are already under way between experts.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.