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Russia expands uranium enrichment with acquisitions

Russia's government, seeking to build a nuclear company that can compete with western rivals, expanded its uranium-enrichment program by buying two closely held domestic suppliers of fuel-processing components.

State-owned nuclear-fuel trader OAO Techsnabexport, also known as Tenex, acquired a controlling stake in carbon fiber producer OOO Akron, Tenex said in an e-mailed statement today. It also acquired all of the country's only other maker of carbon fiber, OOO Zavod Uglerodnykh I Kompositsionnykh Materialov, or Hydrocarbon and Composite Materials Plant. The plants supply carbon fiber to make centrifuges used to enrich uranium. Russia's government is accelerating a program to build more gas-fired centrifuges and increase production of enriched uranium, the material used to make fuel for nuclear reactors. Some of Russia's profits from sales of low-enriched uranium will be diverted to the centrifuge project, Tenex head Vladimir Smirnov said December 27. President Vladimir Putin yesterday approved a law that will allow Russia to form a holding company similar to Paris-based Areva SA, the world's largest maker of reactors.

The Russian company may be called Atomprom, according to Russia's nuclear chief Sergei Kiriyenko. Only the state can own nuclear assets in Russia. Tenex, based in Moscow, has spent almost $100 million gathering manufacturing facilities to produce centrifuges in Russia. The trader paid $71 million in 2005 to buy the Kovrov Mechanical Plant and Tochmash, two plants in the Vladimir region east of Moscow. Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov signed a decree on December 22 to assign Russian production of centrifuges to the two plants this year. Akron and Hydrocarbon and Composite Materials Plant supply carbon fiber to the centrifuge manufacturing plants. Other producers of low-enriched uranium include Areva, USEC Inc. and Urenco Ltd. Toshiba's Westinghouse Electric Co. is the world's biggest supplier of nuclear fuel. (Bloomberg)