25 March 2010

Russia’s Atomstroyexport completed its takeover of a prominent German decommissioning and radwaste firm in January. Its target, Nukem Technologies, was formerly a subsidiary of the fuel trading firm of the same name. Managing director of the 200-person firm, Ulf Kutscher, explains the rationale behind the deal.

Q. What is in it for Nukem Technologies, and for Atomstroyexport?

It is a strategic investment for Atomstroyexport, the Russian vendor of nuclear power plants abroad. With the acquisition of Nukem Technologies it adds to its portfolio waste management technologies.

One of the major areas we can work together with our new owners is to deliver a modern waste treatment facility for every nuclear power plant abroad. The second aspect is knowledge; we will become a centre of knowledge for all Russian decommissioning and clean-up projects. And the third point is that we will participate in waste treatment and waste management opportunities in Russia. This is where we will gain from the partnership and the acquisition.

We will also continue to work outside of Russian markets in eastern Europe, western Europe, Asia and South Africa. These are markets where we have been busy in the past...

Q. Is the primary aspect about gaining access to the Russian market?

No, the primary subject of the deal is that a Russian nuclear vendor is adding world-class waste treatment to future reactor projects. The Russians want to compete with Areva and Westinghouse internationally, and the area that they were not always so good in was the waste treatment part of nuclear power plants...

Q. Wouldn’t it be better to be vendor-independent?

This was a question we asked ourselves when Atomstroyexport first approached us. If you look around the world, every NPP vendor has its own radwaste division or company in its portfolio. Areva has SGN, part of Cogema. Westinghouse has beside others a German company that supplies waste management plants [Hansa Projekt Anlagetechnik]. It was a logical step for the Russians to acquire that knowledge.

We don’t see a restriction to Nukem and don’t believe that being owned by the Russians will limit our ability outside of Russia. We stay a German company, in Germany, and have our independence, so to speak. The intention of the acquisition has been known in the market for two years, and we have not seen a single negative reaction. In the interim period we have won a contract from EDF, and I believe EDF would be a sensitive client to such a combination.

Q. Would you also supply waste management for reactors built in Russia?

It is part of the business plan to supply waste treatment for Russian reactors too. Clearly we have competition in Russia as well. Of course in the acquisition Atomstroyexport brings a new player into the Russian market. This is why I am phrasing it as part of the business plan. Whereas we work for Atomstroyexport’s reactors – this is a given now – the work in Russia for Russian reactors is not carried out by Atomstroyexport and has to be won in competition.

Q. Have you won business yet?

No, the deal was only inked last week [in early January], there haven’t been any contracts yet. There are a number of issues under discussion, where projects are nearly ready to be started. Atomstroyexport is negotiating for reactors in India and China, in Ukraine for completion of Khmelnitsky, talks are intensive with the Belarussians, and it has also put in an expression of interest with CEZ about the Temelin extension. And Atomstroyexport is confident that Belene will be continued...

If the Bulgarian project continues, this would be the first joint project. It would consist of waste concentration, solidification, compaction and a thermal treatment plant. Plus respective on-site storage facilities. It would also contain facilities for on-site storage of spent fuel...

When we speak about Atomstroyexport, these are mostly new-builds. When we speak about us working with the west, it is mostly retrofits, optimisation, and waste management work in decommissioning. But it is fair to say that most of our activity in the west is around decommissioning.

Q. Because it is a bigger market?

No, because of the age of nuclear power plants in the west. Independent of politics, there are lots of power stations that have shut down, and which will shut down soon. France has nine reactors that have shut down and are in the process of decommissioning, and Italy and Spain are similar.

We provide everything that is needed from conceptualisation to the demolition of the reactor. This is what we have done in Germany; we provided concept studies and then were responsible for complete decommissioning of Kahl, Germany’s first nuclear power plant. We are in a contract currently working with the French Onyx Technologies for EDF to remotely decommission the core of Brennilis. We are currently working on the design document, and the contract is due to run for four years. At the moment we are preparing the design, then we will build a mock-up, and then demonstrate it, and then get permission to do the work, and then we will perform the work.

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