Ukraine may join the international uranium enrichment center being established by Russia and Kazakhstan, the press service of Russia`s nuclear power agency said Monday, according to RIA Novosti.
Last October, Russia and Kazakhstan, which holds 15% of the world`s uranium reserves, signed constituent documents to establish their first joint venture to enrich uranium. The venture, which was 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 in East Siberia and will also be responsible for the disposal of nuclear waste.
"Agency head Sergei Kiriyenko and Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych signed a protocol of intent stating that Ukraine could become a third party to the international uranium enrichment center ," said Sergei Novikov, head of the press service.
He said that a Ukrainian delegation is set to visit Angarsk in mid-June and a draft intergovernmental agreement could be ready in two months.
The center will come on stream in 2013 and offer uranium enrichment services to countries interested in developing nuclear energy for civilian purposes.
Russia came up with the initiative to establish joint nuclear enrichment centers last year so that countries could have transparent access to civilian nuclear technology without provoking international fears that low-enriched uranium could be used for a weapons program.
The agency spokesman said the protocol had given Russia and Ukraine the go ahead for cooperation on the whole nuclear fuel cycle, including joint uranium production in the Novokonstantinovsk field in Ukraine, which is expected to yield 2,500 metric tons annually by 2020.
Kiriyenko said Russia was ready to invest in the uranium field and added that the project would quickly recoup any initial outlay.
Experts say the Novokonstantinovsk field could make Ukraine the second-leading country for the production of uranium.
The protocol also opens up opportunities for the countries to collaborate in producing nuclear fuel components. "Ukrainian enterprises could account for 50% of the value of producing fuel rod arrays," Kiriyenko said.
Ukraine and Russia are also planning to interact in building nuclear power plants in other countries, selling electricity, and manufacturing nuclear equipment.
Kiriyenko said Russia could partially share technologies in nuclear fuel production with Ukraine. "The only technology that cannot be transferred is that of uranium enrichment because this is a dual-purpose technology and remember the chain of dramatic developments around the Iranian nuclear program," he said.
Iran has been at the center of international concerns following the resumption of nuclear research in January 2006 in what the Islamic Republic claims is for power generation.
Suspected of pursuing nuclear weapons by some countries in the West, the Islamic Republic is under UN Security Council sanctions and may face more stringent ones.
Kiriyenko said Ukrainian state-run nuclear concern Ukratomprom and his agency had agreed to transfer the technology for producing fuel rod arrays to Ukraine.
The press service said it would take three or four months for the agreements to be drawn up and ready for signing.
Russia`s uranium production accounts for around 8% of global output. Up to 90% of profits in the country`s nuclear sector come from nuclear fuel, power, and service exports, according to Kiriyenko, but Russia seeks to import more uranium. The country plans to meet 60-70% of its uranium demand domestically by 2015.