(dpa) - An Australian ore extraction firm agreed with Ukraine's government to develop uranium production in the former Soviet republic, according to a Tuesday company statement.
West Australia-registered Uran Limited, formerly known as Great Western Exploration Ltd, is set to evaluate and develop two uranium fields in Ukraine.
Were the project to go forward, it would mark the first foreign development of Ukraine's uranium reserves, aside from existing programmes with Russia continuing from the days of the Soviet Union.
The two fields, the Novogurevskoye and the Surskoye, are located in Ukraine's eastern Dnipropetrovsk region.
A Ukrainian uranium enrichment plant, the VostGOK mill in the nearby city Zelty Vody, will partner with Uran Ltd in the development programme.
A final agreement on a proposed joint venture is, according to the statement, expected in April.
The value of Uran Ltd investment into the project, and possible share division in the enterprise was not made public pending the agreement's signing.
Uran Ltd was interested in acquiring a stake in other uranium- related businesses in Ukraine, including a possible 50 per cent share in the Novokonstantinovska shaft in the central Kirovograd province, Interfax reported.
Ukraine is one of the 10 or so countries in the world with significant uranium reserves. The element is critical for Ukrainian energy independence as Ukraine generates approximately half its electricity using nuclear power.
Ukraine however is not capable of enriching its uranium to a quality suitable for use in a nuclear station. At present Ukraine processes the uranium partially and sends it onward to Russia for final enrichment.
Ukrainian nationalist politicians have long argued Ukraine needs to find an alternative uranium supply to through Russia, because of frequent poor relations between the two counties.
Russia for its part has argued Ukraine should not be able to enrich uranium ore into reactor-grade fuel, as the same process could create weapons-grade uranium suitable for use in an nuclear device.
Ukraine inherited the third largest nuclear arsenal in the world when the Soviet Union broke up, but Kiev rejected the use of nuclear weapons in 1992 and had removed or destroyed all warheads on its territory by 1996.