Russian, Ukrainian nuclear officials expand cooperation

Russian and Ukrainian officials held talks Saturday aimed at expanding cooperation in nuclear energy, amid Kiev's interest in producing its own nuclear fuel for power plants. Sergei Kiriyenko, head of the Russian atomic energy agency, headed the Russian delegation in talks with Prime Minister Yuriy Yekhanurov and other senior Ukrainian officials. Ukraine currently has four operating nuclear power plants that produce about half of its electricity production, but it depends on Russia for fuel.

President Viktor Yushchenko suggested earlier this month that Ukraine start to consider enriching its own uranium to produce fuel. The proposal is part of Yushchenko's effort to increase Ukraine's energy independence following a bitter dispute with Russia over natural gas prices.

Ukraine currently supplies Russia with raw uranium, then buys it back after enrichment. By enriching uranium itself, Ukraine could theoretically develop nuclear arms, but Yushchenko insisted his country, a member of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N. nuclear watchdog, had only peaceful intentions.

Ukraine renounced nuclear weapons after the Soviet Union's collapse, and transferred some 1,300 Soviet-built nuclear warheads to Russia for disarming. Russian President Vladimir Putin and Yushchenko highlighted ties in the nuclear sector as a promising area of cooperation during their recent meeting in Kazakhstan. Nuclear energy, however, remains a politically sensitive issue in Ukraine, the site of the world's worst nuclear accident when a reactor at the Chernobyl plant exploded and caught fire in 1986, reports the AP. N.U.