“There is no future for Ukraine without atomic energy”. The interview with director general of the first uranium mining private company
How to develop nuclear power in the country which survived Chornobyl? We had a talk with an IAEA Ukrainian expert and the head of NESU — the company, which first received authorization for uranium mining
The electric flow in our sockets is already like air. In the issue of electricity production, we greatly depend on nuclear power plants, which function on fuel which has to be imported from other states. "Turns out, we undermine national energy security", – comments on the case Yuriy Bakarzhiyev, director-general of NESU.
The company "Nuclear Energy Systems of Ukraine" (NESU) was founded by the outstanding Dnipro born entrepreneur Hennadiy Butkevych. Firstly, he is famous in Ukrainian retail as a co-founder of "ATB-market", and recently – as an investor into the industrial sector. The aim of NESU is to provide the nuclear energy of Ukraine with natural self-produced uranium. "Butkevych invested into this project as much as was allocated to the State Service of Geology and Mineral Resources of Ukraine in the last couple of years", – says Bakarzhiyev. On why in the time of renewable energy talk one needs to invest into the nuclear sphere, how safe and ecologic it is, how uranium is extracted – read in our interview with the head of NESU.
On trends in energy, atomic energy and Ukrainian reality
Yuriy Bakarzhiyev is a scientist-expert with the IAEA, the most prestigious international organization in the peaceful atom realm. He is often invited to conventions as an expert in the resource base of Ukraine. He is just back from one of those trips. "We own uranium deposits, we exploit them, we process the ore, we have a strong nuclear energy sector", – he comments on the respectful perception of Ukraine in the IAEA.
Even though the main trend in global energy is renewable energy, we still can't do without atomic power. This is due to the fact that by capacity renewable energy in most countries can't compete with nuclear one, moreover atomic energy is less harmful for the ecology and climate of the Earth than the thermal energy, which is the result of the fossil fuel burning.
Thus, as of today the most powerful atomic program in the world is developed by China. Currently, there are 20 big atomic reactors being built. In plain language: if you want to get 1000 MW, the atomic station has to take 50 ha. To get 1000 MW from solar batteries, they will have to take up to 2000 ha.
"I am not a renewable energy opponent", – says Yuriy Bakarzhieyev. – This is the future of our planet. But currently the realities of our country and the world are different." The expert states that even in the US, where atomic energy takes only 15-20 % of the country's needs, there is no vision of energy security without an atomic component in the nearest future.
Not to mention Ukraine, where atomic energy takes up to 52 % in the total energy balance, and renewable one – only 1,5 %. "Currently, renewable energy certainly is a promising trend, but in any case scenario competitiveness of its cost price is far from atomic energy. There is no future for Ukraine without atomic energy. 52 percent. There is nothing that can replace it."
On Ukrainian mineral resources and energy security
That's why, as considered by Yuriy bakarzhiyev, it's important for Ukraine to become less dependent resourcefully in the support of its NPP. "Our country needs approximately 2,5 thousand tonnes of uranium for our power plants to renew and exploit fuel assemblies. Now we produce only only 30-35 % of the required uranium. The rest we buy under an external contract in foreign currency, from Russia in particular." And this is despite the fact that Ukraine is in the top 10 countries with the biggest mineral base.
"We have about 500 thousand tonnes of uranium in our country. And this data was formed in Soviet times, for the last ten years no geological exploration has been carried out. Otherwise, maybe I would have been able to tell you a much higher number."
At the same time Ukraine may be confronted with a dilemma: why exploit our own resources if we can live from the market, where the prices are good and there is a ready-made product? Yuriy Bakarzhiyev answers: "Because there is such a thing as strategic national energy security. And we have to think about that. Only those who rule the market can live from it. Anything can happen on the market. Let's imagine that we have a contract with credible guarantees, but no one is protected from anything. Who could have thought in 2014 that Russia will attack Ukraine? What to say about some contract?"
Global trends of treating own resources, including uranium, are undergoing some changes. States strive to secure their energy sector by starting the exploitation of their own resources, not to be too dependent on the market. Similar strategy is planned to be implemented by the US, which has always been known for their aspiration to conserve their resources. Ukraine should also start thinking about its security in the similar manner, reckons Yuriy Bakarzhiyev.
Not only will uranium exploited in Ukraine ensure the work of our NPP, in the long run it can be exported. However, for now we should primarily focus on providing for Ukrainan needs in fuel, because today we provide only one third of the necessary uranium. The reason for that lies in the fact that nowadays extraction in Ukraine is carried out by public companies in expensive ways, which means that the product itself is also not cheap. "It is difficult to work at a loss", – notes Mr. Bakarzhieyev. – If the state had subsidized, it would have been a completely different story, but for now the situation is as it is".
On NESU and its work
This is where the idea of NESU originated from – the first private uranium mining company in Ukraine. "Our investor – Hennadiy Butkevych – asked himself: why buy uranium on the market, when we can mine and process it, create jobs, infrastructure and promote industry?"
Since the company is private, it's more mobile and dynamic than public enterprises. "In the last 9 months we did what public companies would need 3,4,5 years to do. We received land to build the factory, signed the contract of land easement, carried out the exploration of mines, protected the supplies, wrote the feasibility study and the Project, and now we are undergoing the expertise. Now we have a geological exploration license – it's not the same as operating one. But Hennadiy Vladyslavovych (Butkevych – ed.) has already invested in this project almost as much as allocated to the State Service of Geology and Mineral Resources of Ukraine in the last few years."
One of the most labor consuming processes Yuriy Bakarzhiev considers the receival of geological information. "For example, recently NESU was accused of allegedly having something to do with state secret disclosure. The Security Service of Ukraine became interested in the activity of PC "Kirovgeologiya", but, after checking everything, criminal processing was closed. We received our information only lawfully in accordance with the treaties with the State Service of Geology and Mineral Resources of Ukraine, waiting for a long time and following all procedures", – tells the director of the company. Although the classification of this information he calls soviet vestige, which isn't encountered anywhere else.
Now NESU is working on two mines in the Mykolaiv region (the uranium enrichment factory will be built there) – Saphonivske and Mykhaylivske. Two more mines are planned in Dnipropetrovsk region – Novogurivske and Surske. The building of the factory itself is planned already for 2021.
Among strategic aims of NESU is to implement technology of mini module reactors in the atomic energy of Ukraine. Although the company is now on the raw material stage of the project (the process of licensing itself for regular NPP may take from 5 to 7 years), its final ideology is that. Why? Soon ukrainian NPP will have to think about modernization of their equipment and processes, and mini module reactors have benefits, which make them a good option for transition: "It's a lot easier to work with them infrastructurally, easier from the financial investment point of view; they can be installed faster in comparison with big energy stations". Together with that, Ukraine needs to correlate its legal systems with Western ones for that purpose, in order to start collaborating in building nuclear reactors.
NESU is interesting for its innovative approach. Uranium mining the company carries out in the most ecological way ever existing. "When you build a quarry, you decommission land, where it will be, almost for good. It's thousands of hectares. When you build a mine – it's an underground way of extraction – you still need territories for tailings, for infrastructure of the mine itself. This is about a hundred hectares.
In our case – underground leaching – we go in the segment, drill the net of wells, inject the solution, extract mineral resources, enrich them, take out releasing sleeves, plug up, carry out the reclamation – in 3-4 years the agricultural work can be renewed there. In Ukraine two mines were used like that – Devlanivske and Bratske. Nothing has changed there. Trees are growing and the fields are being scattered with seeds."
The ecology and social responsibility issues are one of the key ones for NESU, since the company is ready to take heightened responsibility for its influence in these areas. Yuriy Bakarzhiyev thinks that when we talk about atomic energy and ecology, we tend to "think emotionally", remembering Chernobyl and Fukusima. However, atomic energy is a much smaller threat to Ukrainian ecology than, for example, even the issue of domestic litter and its utilization, which to date is very acute in our country. "If you juxtapose everything," – ensures Yuriy Bakarzhiyev, – "nuclear energy is the clearest. We, in turn, in accordance with all the rules of our law, have already estimated the effect on the environment. The leading institute in Ukraine – NESU Institute of Environment Geochemistry – has carried out full monitoring and made all necessary calculations for us. Everything was calculated, explained to the residents, published on the web site. According to the results of this estimate we are not affecting the environment in any way. Especially with our way of mining."
Yuriy Bakarzhiyev reckons that the future of raw material and energy sectors of Ukraine is in publicity. It's a normal practice in the west to have public access to data on mineral resources of the country, since it's easier to engage investors into this sector, develop cooperation between the state and business, which eventually will lead only to strengthening security, energy security in particular. Closedness and endless bureaucracy procedures in the raw materials sector in Ukraine – this is a living soviet heritage, which we need to get rid of, as told by Yuriy Anatoliyovych.