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Business

GE-Hitachi venture enlists Rosatom for US reactor fueling

TOKYO -- A nuclear fuel supplier jointly owned by General Electric and Hitachi has formed a partnership with a unit of Russia's Rosatom that will give it greater reach in the U.S.

Announced Tuesday, the collaboration between Global Nuclear Fuel and Rosatom's TVEL Fuel will enable GNF to supply both of the two main types of nuclear reactors. This will broaden its earnings base during a difficult time for the nuclear industry.

GNF processes and supplies fuel for boiling-water reactors, or BWRs -- the same type as those at Japan's ill-fated Fukushima Daiichi power plant -- built by American industrial group GE and its Japanese partner Hitachi. BWRs account for almost 40% of the 100 or so U.S. nuclear power reactors in operation.

Using know-how gleaned from TVEL, GNF will manufacture fuel for pressurized-water reactors -- PWRs -- at a facility in the state of North Carolina.

Once the plan is approved by U.S. regulators, GNF will begin seeking orders with PWR operators. It aims to have PWR fuel supply deals in six to eight years and may eventually form a separate venture.

Rosatom has plans to build nuclear power plants in Iran and elsewhere, and is considering entry into Japan's reactor fuel market. The partnership with GNF gives it a foothold in the U.S. and opens up the prospect of further collaboration with the GE-Hitachi alliance worldwide.

Reactor construction and fuel provision go hand in hand in the nuclear industry.

GNF was formed in 2000 by GE, Hitachi and Japan's Toshiba. GE now controls 68% of the venture, while Hitachi holds the remaining 32%. The two industrial conglomerates combined their nuclear businesses in 2007.

In 2006, Toshiba bought U.S. plant builder Westinghouse, which serves as its nuclear fuel supplier overseas. A Westinghouse subsidiary handles the Japanese side of this business.

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and its French reactor-building partner Areva have different fuel supply domains -- the former Japan, the later overseas markets.

With most of the nation's reactors offline, Japan has offered limited growth opportunities in the nuclear fuel business since the Fukushima meltdowns. Overseas, hardly any new reactors are being built outside of China. The partnership between GE-Hitachi and Rosatom could spur new global realigments in this difficult environment.

(Nikkei)

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