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Westinghouse increasingly central to CEE’s shift from Russian nuclear industry

| 2024-04-26 3 min read

Westinghouse increasingly central to CEE’s shift from Russian nuclear industry

Reading Time: 3 minutes

US nuclear firm Westinghouse Electric Company has signed memorandums of understanding (MOUs) with 17 Bulgarian suppliers to support the construction of two AP1000 reactors at the nuclear power plant in Kozloduy, north Bulgaria, and received a permit to begin transitioning to using fuel it has produced.

As well as Bulgaria, AP1000 reactors will be used in nuclear energy programmes in Poland and Ukraine and are in consideration at other nuclear power plants in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE), Westinghouse noted.

Fuel transition scheduled to begin in May

Over 40 cartridges of the fuel have already arrived at Kozloduy from Westinghouse’s site in Vasteras, central Sweden, where they were manufactured. The parallel operation of both fuels will continue for the next four years.

As the country starts to reduce its reliance on Russian supplies, Bulgaria’s Nuclear Regulatory Agency issued the license for Westinghouse to use the fuel at unit 5 of the Kozloduy plant. A recent revamp at the plant will enable operations to continue for an additional 30 years. 

The two units currently operating at Kozloduy, which provides one-third of Bulgaria’s electricity, are both Russian-designed VVER-1000 (water-water energetic reactor) reactors. Bulgaria was obliged to discontinue four older VVER-440 units as a condition for joining the EU.

Bulgaria’s interim Prime Minister Dimitar Glavchev visited the site with Bulgarian Energy Minister Vladimir Malinov, who said the plan is to start loading new cartridges of nuclear fuel in May. They added that a fuel diversification contract has also been signed with the French company Framatome. Illustrating the generally protracted nature of such deals, Glavchev recalled that he had held talks with Westinghouse in 2009-10.

Bulgaria, Westinghouse ink deal on nuclear decade

Westinghouse is playing an increasingly key role in CEE’s move away from Russian nuclear fuel supply chains. However, not all Western countries are decoupling from Russia: last year Framatome signed a deal with TVEL, a subsidiary of Russian state-owned company Rosatom, to manufacture VVER fuel elements. 

For its part, Bulgarian MPs voted to accelerate the process of securing alternatives to Russia as its nuclear fuel supplier in 2022, after it launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February of that year. As part of this process, Bulgaria signed a ten-year contract with Westinghouse to fabricate and deliver VVER-1000 fuel.

In January 2024, the Bulgarian government approved a draft cooperation agreement with the US for the construction of two new nuclear reactors using Westinghouse AP1000 technology at the Kozloduy NPP (units 7&8). The construction cost is estimated at around USD 14bn, but that could reach USD 30bn, according to some industry experts.

That same month, Bulgaria greenlit Robust Westinghouse Fuel Assembly RWFA fuel to replace the Russian TVEL fuel currently used at Kozloduy. A fuel storage permit was also issued in January.

The following month, Bulgaria’s Parliamentary Energy Commission announced that South Korea’s Hyundai Engineering & Construction would be invited to submit an offer for the design, construction, supply, installation and commissioning of units 7 and 8. Bulgaria plans to launch unit 7 by 2034 and unit 8 around 2-3 years after that. Of the five interested nuclear firms, two Chinese and two US companies did not meet the requirements.

In March, Bulgarian MPs ratified the intergovernmental agreement on cooperation in nuclear energy, signed in February between Bulgaria and the US.

Plans to build a new plant at Belene, north Bulgaria, with two VVER-1000 reactors were cancelled due to political and financial issues as the technology was manufactured and supplied by Russia. Those reactors, now in storage at Belene, may be transferred to Ukraine for use at the plant in Khmelnytskyi, west Ukraine.

Supply MOUs aim to boost local employment

The supply MOUs, signed on 12 April 2024, concern the making of key components including large structural modules, heat exchangers, cranes, and pressure vessels. Last October, Westinghouse signed MOUs with five Bulgarian suppliers for the plant in Kozloduy as well as other European projects, including manufacturing instrumentation and controls (I&C) and radiation monitoring systems. They will also provide services in engineering, consulting, construction and transportation.

Petyo Ivanov, the executive director of Kozloduy NPP-New Build, which signed a deal on a front-end engineering and design for its AP1000 technology with Westinghouse in June 2023, said the partnerships with local suppliers “represent another step toward bringing additional advanced, nuclear technology online in Bulgaria and emphasise the economic impact that the project will have for our country and its people. We expect these Bulgarian companies to become a vital part of the Westinghouse worldwide supply chain,” he added.

Westinghouse Energy Systems president David Durham said the US firm is “pleased to further expand that with additional, experienced and local Bulgarian suppliers. Growth of our local and qualified supplier network in addition to the critical progress we are making on our front-end engineering and design contract for this project are important steps that help us to pave the way to bring a clean energy future to Bulgaria for generations to come,” Durham added.