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Always On Top of Competition

Archive of news: All 2020 2016 2014 2013 2012 2011


Vasiliy Konstantinov, Senior Vice President at TVEL, speaks in his exclusive interview about ROSATOM's fuel business in the next 15 years, potential markets for TVS Kvadrat fuel, and relations with Ukrainian partners. - Could you please tell us about TVEL's international strategy? What is the current ratio between domestic and overseas revenue? - Our international operations are of great importance for the nuclear fuel brand and ROSATOM's reputation. The corporate strategy covers the period up to 2030. We have to watch closely where and why we are successful, analyse market developments, and respond to new challenges. TVEL today is definitely a leader in the nuclear fuel production. Delivering fuel to 15 countries, we cover 17% of the global market. We have a large portfolio of long-term contracts and face broad prospects on new markets. 

Good examples are the International Uranium Enrichment Centre established in Russia in association with Kazakhstan and a joint nuclear fuel plant in Ukraine. Alvel in the Czech Republic is another joint project underway. We are planning a number of other large-scale alliances though our strategy may be adjusted. We must always stay on top of competition – this is our priority. As for exact figures, exports account for 45% of our total revenue from nuclear product sales. The strategy provides for the revenue to grow from RUB 122 billion in 2012 to RUB 665 billion in 2030. No doubt that the goal is ambitious and depends much on our international operations. 

Certain projects will be a good help in achieving this goal. There are areas where we clearly understand our every step, and there are others making us revise the strategy. - Emerging markets have great potential for the nuclear industry. How will TVEL expand its presence there? - It is true that emerging markets, particularly China, India and the Middle East, play an increasingly greater role in the global power consumption. This is where we are looking for potential consumers of our products and services. Despite this, Western Europe remains an important market for us. - How is the TVS Kvadrat project going on? What are the prospects for TVEL to supply fuel assemblies for the western-design reactors? - Over the past few years, TVEL won all open tenders in Europe. 

We boast a variety of technological and commercial advantages over our competitors. ROSATOM has notably expanded its portfolio of contracts to build VVER-based nuclear power plants, which means that nuclear fuel for the Russian reactors will be in growing demand. However, the number of western-design reactors is growing at a faster pace as there are more reactor producers in the West. If we want to be in demand outside the Russian reactor market and have a strong brand, we should seize the opportunity. With this in mind, we have launched the TVS Kvadrat fuel project. It has been on the go for a few years, and the first TVS Kvadrat fuel assemblies will soon be loaded into one of commercial PWR reactors. Striving to open the market potential for TVS Kvadrat, we are interested in all countries operating PWR reactors. TVS Kvadrat is a driver towards our strategic goal – winning 30% of the global nuclear fuel market by 2030. - How competitive is TVS Kvadrat pricing against non-domestic fuel? - Our fuel is very competitive, and we set aggressive cost reduction targets for our manufacturing subsidiaries. 

This will keep us competitive both today and in the years to come. - TVEL supplies its products to many European countries. Has the Ukrainian crisis affected sales? Despite the political unrest, TVEL has never stopped its unconditional and reliable nuclear fuel supply to all international consumers. We are proud to perform our contracts in time and in full, and we have never failed to meet our obligations. Nuclear fuel supply is a matter of safety, reliability and reputation for us. Not long ago I had a talk with our Finnish partners who were confident in our fuel and had no intention to change the supplier. On top of that, they are prepared to bear additional expenses and carry a reserve fuel stock. The Czech partners operating the nuclear plant with our fuel has no intention to diversify their supplier base either. - Could you please comment on Energoatom's decision to cut a deal with Westinghouse on fuel supplies for three power reactors in Ukraine? - I think that nuclear fuel supplies should be diversified with products of the Russian-Ukrainian joint venture. Its former CEO prohibited utilization of Westinghouse's fuel while the new CEO gave his immediate approval – it is nothing more than politics. 

We have said many times that TVEL is not against competition on the nuclear fuel market – it is a normal process, beneficial for both producers and customers, but we should exclude a political factor from decision making in the nuclear industry. The all-time priority is safety and reliability, and decisions in the industry should centre on professionalism and responsibility. As for the contract with Westinghouse, we do not know details. It is crucial that Energoatom's arrangements with the American company do not conflict with our contracts. Starting 2016, all Ukrainian nuclear plants should be provided with the Russian fuel only as declared in the agreements between TVEL and Energoatom. Besides, when we won the tender we specified that the first production facility of the joint venture would be commissioned within three years after the project design documents were signed off. If another producer comes on stage, production capacities will be underloaded and the plant will have poorer financial performance. 

This means that contractual obligations will not be fulfilled. The American fuel is now utilized together with Russian assemblies in the same reactor cores but we know nothing yet of its properties and influence on our fuel. We are not prepared to sacrifice our reputation for experiments like this. - Have you requested any relevant information? - Yes, we have. The Ukrainian party refused to provide it by reference to the confidentiality provisions, and advised us to contact Westinghouse. As a result, we have no data to make a conclusion as to safety and reliability of this fuel. - What is the current status of the nuclear fuel plant project in Ukraine? - Much has been done already. We established a Russian-Ukrainian joint venture, carried out a feasibility study, drafted project design documents and had them approved by the government expert panel. Last October we selected a construction site in the Kirovograd Region and began preparatory works there. Unfortunately, we are now behind the initial schedule due to difficulties of the Ukrainian party in financing its share in the project. The first follow-on offering of JV shares was successful on the second try only while the second follow-on offering earlier this year was a total failure. 

Now the joint venture needs resources badly – almost all activities have been suspended, and even routine operations may soon come to a halt. We cannot start construction works on the site, transfer technologies and deliver equipment. By the way, we have already produced equipment for the plant's first production line, which is now ready for shipment. All this has been done at the expense of the Russian shareholder. We are committed to meeting our obligations, and Ukraine should do its utmost to resume the project. Along with diversification, its development will secure power supply in the country. It should also be noted that the plant's products have good export prospects. - Apart from this, what are the relations between TVEL and Energoatom? - Generally positive. Last April I visited Ukraine to meet Energoatom's President Mr Yury Nedashkovsky. He assured us that the company would perform all the contracts in full. On our part, we continue to supply the Ukrainian nuclear plants with fuel. 

Our customers are satisfied with the quality of our supplies. Besides, we have a long track record of cooperation, and stay linked with strong manufacturing ties. When producing nuclear fuel, we use uranium and fuel assembly components manufactured in Ukraine in accordance with Russian technologies. Our joint plans with Energoatom are to shift the Ukrainian nuclear power plants over to a new fuel with improved properties in the near future. I am sure that prospects of our cooperation span tens of years ahead, at least until the life cycle of the plant and power units in operation. That is why our long-term strategic relations are stronger than any political factors. - Russia and Kazakhstan have recently signed a memorandum on construction of the nuclear power plant. In particular, there was talk of Kazakhstan to produce fuel and rods for it. Could you please comment on the plans? - We have been working with Kazakhstan since the Soviet times. Kazakhstan operates the Ulba Metallurgical Plant (UMP) capable of producing fuel pellets. 

We plan to involve UMP in the fuel supply chain after the commissioning of the first power unit. If the number of reactors in Kazakhstan grows, we will increase the local share in fuel production. - Apart from nuclear fuel, TVEL offers a variety of non-nuclear products sold both nationally and internationally. Could you please tell us about the non-nuclear business? - This is the second group of our core operations, and ROSATOM has set a clear goal of their development. We have extensive R&D and production facilities enabling us to develop and manufacture innovative products for general industry purposes. Our offering includes superconductors, titanium alloy pipes, calcium wire for ladle treatments, power storage units and many other products. It is important for investment projects to pay back as soon as possible, and we have many of them. However, ROSATOM's financial resources are limited, making us select the most efficient projects. For instance, we are developing a far-reaching project in Angarsk involving German companies. 

It targets production of quartz crystals for industrial purposes. The project has excellent prospects and – what is crucial here – is partially financed by German investors. In addition, we have potential consumers in Germany looking forward to quartz crystal shipments. By Dmitry Shustov

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