Uranium jerky: Angle on Ukraine (Part VII)

Things that make you go, Hmmm.

Back in the fall of 2020, I published a series of six articles* under the subject “Uranium Jerky” (explanation in the first article), taking note of the extraordinary connection of the events recounted in them to the Obama administration and – among other things – the high-profile Clinton-involved developments of the time, including the sale of Uranium One to the Russians.

One of those events was Goldman Sachs’s unique, remarkable decision, announced on 20 January 2009, that it would become a buyer of and dealer in physical uranium.  It proceeded to do so, and to this day has not shed that role, although the company began suggesting it would do so under congressional pressure at least seven years ago.

I’m still not sure most readers fully grasp the significance of a firm like Goldman Sachs, with little visibility or transparent exposure to observers of the uranium industry, owning and moving around thousands of tons of uranium. No other company outside the industry has ever engaged in such activities.  There is no reason to imagine it was done for an ordinary or uninteresting purpose; in fact, it’s virtually certain it was done for a nefarious one.  For one thing, when Goldman Sachs in mid-2009 made its first purchase of a uranium-dealing company, UK-based Nufcor, the company was the sole marketing representative for (you guessed it) Uranium One.

It took a very specialized – and, again, unique – reading of a grandfather clause to even tenuously justify a commodities-trading financial institution making such a move, against the regulatory intent of Congress.  But that’s not even what matters.  What matters is that with Goldman Sachs buying, owning, literally storing and shipping and selling uranium, there was no inherent check or balance, in terms of industry organization, on what the company might do with it.

There’s no need to revisit the entire argument of the Uranium Jerky series here, however.  The purpose of this article – now Part VII of the series – is to recount uranium-related activities surrounding the recent history of Ukraine, including Russia’s invasion in February 2022.  The activities are of more interest than merely their connection to Ukraine, or their timing in relation to events in Ukraine.  They are very illuminating about nuclear industry policy in the West, which has been flying under the radar for some time.  They raise questions about why things are being done.

Processing uranium yellowcake. Image: Orano via IAEA

In one way it might be simpler to just put up a timeline.  That would mean starting in the 1990s, which would probably lose some readers’ interest right off the bat.  So instead, we’ll start with a couple of interesting developments readers are unlikely to be aware of, but that richly reward investigation.

One is that the U.S has had a joint nuclear venture with Ukraine at the Kharkiv Institute of Physics and Technology (KIPT) for some time.  One of the interesting things about it is that President Obama, after his nuclear security summit in 2010, touted this joint venture as part of a package in which Ukraine agreed to ship its Soviet-era high-enriched uranium stockpile to Russia.  The U.S. was to help move the HEU to Russia, and would also “provide Ukraine with replacement LEU fuel as well as a state-of-the-art Neutron Source Facility (NSF) at the Kharkiv Institute for Physics and Technology. …  The United States [as of 2012] has … completed the main stages of construction of the NSF and will ensure the NSF is fully operational by 2014, thereby fulfilling commitments to Ukraine.”

Kharkiv KIPT, Ukraine, 2008. Wikipedia:  Ace^eVg – Own work by the original uploader

As with many projects touted by the Obama administration, this one was rather less than meets the eye.  Ukraine was already going to offload its HEU as part of a post-Soviet cooperation agreement involving Ukraine, Russia, and the United States.

And the joint project with the KIPT had actually been inaugurated in 2004 during the George W. Bush administration.  Later reporting from industry research teams appears to indicate, however, that some eye-catching decisions were made about the course of the venture in the Obama years.  More on that below.

Nuclear power self-sufficiency

Another of the interesting developments is Ukraine’s commitment in 2020 to push through with a program that would “wean” the country off of dependence on Russia as a source of uranium products.  This effort had been given fluctuating levels of energy for the previous 20-25 years, since the break-up of the Soviet Union, but was emphasized as a key national policy in 2020 and 2021.  Indeed, the first week of January 2022 saw a spate of reporting on the renewed effort.

Graphic credit: https://www.world-energy.org/article/23061.html (based on Energoatom Ukraine information)

Ukraine has the highest amount of proven recoverable uranium reserves in Europe, along with key minerals such as tritium and zirconium.  As a number of pundits have noted, Ukraine’s general blessings in sought-after mineral deposits (including coal, lithium, and rare earths, among others) are of interest to any nation with a vision for hoarding and controlling resources, from Nazi Germany to present-day Russia.

Overview of Ukrainian uranium deposits. The greatest concentration is in the Dniprovsky Basin in the geologic zone known as the Ukrainian Shield. The grouping around Kirovohrad (now  Kropyvnytskyi) has been the most intensively mined to date. The next map shows where new mines in the Ukrainian Shield are being developed. Graphic credit: https://nucsystems.com.ua/uranium-industry-of-ukraine-prospective-and-development/.

Kyiv’s current push includes ensuring that uranium production continues at the working Smolinska and Ingulskaya mines in the Kirovohrad Oblast (mines grouped around the city formerly named Kirovograd, and recently rechristened with its Ukrainian cognomen Kropyvnytskyi).

See the uranium concentration at the center of the so-called “Ingul Megablock,” where most mining to date has occurred. The new Aprelskoye and Novokostantynivka mines are circled to the west (at left). Graphic credit: IAEA publication at https://www-pub.iaea.org/iaeameetings/cn216pn/Tuesday/Session2/Emetz.pdf. Information from UDEPO Ukraine

In an area west of Kropyvnytskyi, getting closer to Lviv, Ukraine intends to prioritize bringing online the Novokostantinyvka and Aprelskoye mines, the former having been prepared starting in 2011.

The Stepnoye Mining and Processing Combine in the Donetsk region is to be refurbished and expanded for the processing work necessary to develop Ukrainian uranium for fuel, rather than importing the great majority of it in a fuel-ready state from abroad (Russia, and a Swedish subsidiary of Westinghouse).

The Stepnoye area of Donetsk was reportedly overrun early in the invasion, in March, and as recently as a week ago the Russian Ministry of Defense claimed that defensive activities (against the Ukrainian counterattack) were underway there.  Such reports cannot be verified, and in any case, what shape the mining and processing combine in now in is another question.

Selected Ukrainian uranium facilities (see “Kharkiv” for location of KIPT) viewed against the general situation of the Russian invasion in the east. The location of Transnistria on the border of Moldova is depicted due to the longtime presence of Russian troops there. Kharkiv, the Stepnoye processing plant, and the Kamianske industrial complex just west of Dnipro have all been menaced in the invasion. Google map; author annotation

Kyiv also envisions producing its own zirconium oxide for cladding reactor fuel elements.  A likely site for such development is a Soviet-era complex on the west side of Dnipro on the Dnipro (Dnieper) River.  The chemical plant complex is located in what is now Kamianske, formerly called Dniprodzerzhynsk.  It has a poor safety reputation and there has been much literature on its need for cleaning and removal of hazards, but a company called Promenergetika Ltd is producing zirconium oxide there.

It’s important not to overstate the significance of Ukraine’s self-sufficiency push as a potential factor in Vladimir Putin’s policy decisions.  But there’s a hazard in understating it too.  That’s in part because uranium is one of several key resources and access arrangements Ukraine seeks to optimize for the purpose of achieving functional political independence from Moscow.  It’s also because Kyiv’s main partners for this enterprise are in Europe and North America.

An adjunct to the self-sufficiency decision was Ukraine’s diversification of uranium fuel sources in the preceding decade.  Kyiv had relied pretty much exclusively on Russia since the Soviet era, but in 2010 began buying uranium fuel from Westinghouse.  In August 2016, Ukraine and the European consortium URENCO – Europe’s operator of uranium enrichment facilities – inked an agreement for the sale of enriched uranium to Kyiv, for reactor fuel and other nuclear applications.

That may sound relatively benign on its face, although veteran Russia observers will understand that Moscow would take this hard.  Remember also when it happened – August 2016, in the midst of the anti-Trump campaign operations – and all the bizarre shenanigans that were bubbling with the Obama administration, the Clintons, and Ukraine at the time.  Putin would not have been wrong to be highly suspicious of what was really going on.  We can assume he was.

It’s always good to keep in mind as well that natural resources in Ukraine, like everything else there, are controlled by oligarchs, who are either “in” or on the outs with the Russian network of commercial oligarchs and their relations with Putin.  A national self-sufficiency push is inherently about those relationships and their politics, in ways that don’t necessarily occur up front to Western observers.  At some point we will pull that string and see what shakes out; meanwhile, we can be confident the threads are there.

But here again, there is more than meets the eye in the backstory.  Hang in there.  It’s the backstory that is illuminating.  More than that, it’s downright fascinating, as we will see further below.

The joint project in Kharkiv

The U.S. project with Ukraine’s KIPT research institution has gotten very little attention outside the nuclear research industry for the last 18 years.  That made it easier for the Obama administration to talk it up as if it were an initiative of the administration, something launched with the nuclear security summit in 2010.

But in 2007, an update on the project referred to it prosaically, and without trumpet fanfare, as being sponsored by a contract of the Office of Global Nuclear Material Threat Reduction in the U.S. Department of Energy with Argonne National Labs, one of the chief U.S. contractors for such work.  And a paper introduced at an industry event in November 2004 outlined both the Ukrainian interest in the project and the work Argonne was doing “in preparation for a joint conceptual design activity between ANL and KIPT.”  The 2004 paper referenced the same DOE contract.

Group photo of KIPT physicists in 1934. Wikipedia: Unknown author – http://forbes.ua/magazine/forbes/1366094-prometei-v-okovah-kak-harkov-byl-stolicej-tehnologij

By 2008, the research partners had gotten down to specifics and had a detailed summary of where they were taking the venture.  At all times, it was intended to demonstrate a “sub-critical assembly driven by electron linear accelerator” as a productive neutron source, the end result typically being cast as medical-use isotopes.  Don’t let your eyes glaze over too much at the medical applications aspect, however. 

What the Obama administration did with this project after 2010 suggests Team Obama may have had something else in mind.  Maybe it did seem like a good idea to use $25 million at that point to buy a new set of equipment for Ukraine in order to develop neutron production capability for medical applications.  The purchase and installation of new, “state-of-the-art” equipment in Kharkiv is what showed outwardly that the joint project could be going in a new direction.

But it’s not clear why the U.S. would do that aiming for the rather startling outcome by 2016, described as follows in another Argonne paper in January of that year (Abstract, p. 1(PDF 9);  see last sentence):

The [Kharkiv] facility consists of an accelerator driven system (ADS), which has a subcritical assembly using low enriched uranium fuel elements with a beryllium-graphite reflector. The beryllium assemblies of the reflector have the same outer geometry as the fuel elements, which permits loading the subcritical assembly with different number of fuel elements without impacting the reflector performance. The subcritical assembly is driven by an external neutron source generated from the interaction of 100-kW electron beam with a tungsten target. The facility construction was completed at the end of 2015, and it is planned to start the operation during the year of 2016. It is the first ADS in the world, which has a coolant system for removing the generated fission power.

This was seen as a pretty state-of-the-art facility, as apparently intended, and it’s certainly a question why we thought Ukraine was the place to install it.  Nothing against Ukraine, but speaking for myself, I would have thought maybe somewhere in the United States.  It really is a legitimate question why we’d put it in Ukraine, if you take a moment to think about it.  (We have a lot more well-developed industrial and research cooperation with Western Europe and Japan, and have had for some time.)

That’s not the only interesting feature of the progress once the Obama administration stepped in.  Notice, for example, that in January 2016, the facility used the 100-kW electron beam on a tungsten target to generate neutrons.  In earlier stages of development, papers on the project referred to the target element for the electron beam as uranium.  It was acknowledged that the target would be either uranium or tungsten, but in 2011, the literature posting updates spoke of it being uranium.

By 2013, tungsten was in the mix.  So was a third partner added to the revamped project in Kharkiv.  That partner was China.  In 2013, the KIPT-Argonne crew offered a paper at an industry conference in Shanghai describing China’s participation in the venture.

“National Science Center ‘Kharkov Institute of Physics and Technology’ (NSC KIPT, Kharkov, Ukraine),” they began, “together with Argonne National Laboratory (ANL, USA) developed the conceptual project of a neutron source based on the sub-critical assembly driven by electron linear accelerator.”

The entry gate to China’s Institute of High Energy Physics (IHEP) in Beijing. Wikipedia: User N509FZ – Own work

A few paragraphs in (emphases added):  “The electron linear accelerator, driver of the SA [sub-critical assembly], is under manufacture in Institute of High Energy Physics (IHEP), Beijing, China.”  So the accelerator was to come from China – and indeed, a series of papers from the Chinese partners confirm that it did.  China wasn’t involved until the Obama administration ponied up $25 million to confer new equipment on Ukraine, which we can confidently assume is an observation that means what it sounds like.

But there’s another little Easter egg in the opening material of the 2013 paper.  “The SA core is a set of fuel elements of WWR-M2 type by the TVEL corporation production (Russia) of low enriched uranium (19,7% [U-235]). The fuel is finely dispersed uranium dioxide UO2 that is uniformly distributed in aluminium matrix.”

As of 2013, Russia was to supply “20%-enriched” uranium fuel elements for the KIPT project.  Take a Gregorian calendar break to remember that this was shortly before Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014.  We’ll ponder that more below, in the section on URENCO’s checkered history.

Note the chart on p. 1 of the 2013 paper, meanwhile, which shows both uranium and tungsten (W) as target elements for the neutron source (NS) apparatus.

Either uranium or tungsten can be an effective target for neutron production in the interest of obtaining medical isotopes, according to the researchers and peer-commentators.  Comparing the yield, and in particular its efficiency under adjusted operating conditions, has been a key objective of the research venture across the board.  But it’s at least noteworthy that the scope of the enterprise seemed to expand between 2010 and 2013, bringing in China and Russia and enlarging the basis of comparison to testing both elements.

And it was all for medical isotopes.  Who knew we had so much going on with Ukraine?

Americans mostly didn’t.  Oddly, a Washington Post article from 2011, on the Obama administration’s juicing of the KIPT venture, appears to have been removed from its original URL and can no longer be found using the original headline or keywords.  The Wayback archive shows that it was saved a few years ago, but the saved version has also been removed.  That article is now just a non-working link from posts like this one.  

In an interesting coda, a paper by South Korean researchers delivered to the Korean Nuclear Society at its meeting in May 2022 made reference to the KIPT-ANL project, describing it as an advancement of accelerator technologies to enable “intensive neutron source”; i.e., highly productive generation of neutrons.  “United States and Ukraine,” say the researchers, “have collaborated to design and construct a large-scale neutron source of accelerator-driven subcritical system (ADS) with 100 kW electron beam.”

The Koreans’ stated objective is to test the feasibility of using thorium as a target for production from a “fast neutron source.”  (I.e., the thorium target is the element hit with the electron beam, rather than uranium or tungsten.)

Although they don’t state it as such, this appears to be related to the potential for using thorium (in conjunction with plutonium) for neutron capture and transformation into uranium-233 as a basis for a nuclear reactor.  Thorium is significantly more abundant on Earth than natural uranium, and scientists are interested in its potential for this employment.

Bombarding target elements with electron beams to quickly and intensively produce neutrons has more than one category of application.  I’m guessing medical isotopes aren’t necessarily the main reason to pursue the technology.

It is worth mentioning, though it’s probably just a coincidence, that an exotic little detail from the Russiagate narrative was curiously timed to dovetail with the Kharkiv project between KIPT and Argonne.  Remember, that project was launched in 2004 with a DOE contract with ANL.  The funny little thing that happened on 30 March 2004 was Dr. John Harbottle starting his medical isotopes business in the UK, Severnvale Nuclear Services Ltd.

Severnvale, a one-of-a-kind enterprise in Britain, was the company bought out by Joseph Mifsud’s lawyer Stephan Roh in October 2005, shortly after Bill Clinton and Frank Giustra went to Kazakhstan (September 2005).  Severnvale’s business took off like a rocket under Roh starting in 2008, ran for a few years, and then shut down entirely less than a month after Hillary Clinton left the State Department in 2013.  (See the footnote links and here for backstory on Severnvale.)

URENCO’s fantastic adventures

In this section we get to the payoff for all the hard work done setting the stage above.  I’ll trust readers to keep track of the timing of events until we sequence it generally in the grand finale.  It affords quite a bit of food for thought.

First a reminder of URENCO’s unique position as owner of the sole facility for uranium enrichment in the United States, Louisiana Energy Services (LES) in Eunice, New Mexico.  As recounted in my previous reporting, U.S.-owned uranium enrichment plummeted to zero a few years after URENCO bought LES in 2010.  The last orders taken by a U.S.-owned company, U.S. Enrichment Corporation (USEC), were in 2013, when the company went bankrupt.

CENTRUS presentation slide, Aspen Security forum 2017. Link in text.

URENCO, as related previously, is co-owned and controlled by the governments of the UK and Netherlands, and a consortium of German energy conglomerates, which bought Germany’s shares some years ago.  URENCO’s facilities enrich the uranium for reactors in Western Europe (and now for the United States).

It’s worth taking a moment to ponder that at the same time Russia was being allowed to buy Uranium One, with its interest in a sizable chunk of U.S. uranium reserves in Wyoming (i.e., ca. 2010), the end of U.S.-owned enrichment capacity was in sight – and was allowed to zero out.  URENCO was allowed to buy and operate the single new enrichment plant in America a few months before the Uranium One sale.

It’s doubly interesting because in that precise interim – 2010 to 2013 – a proposal was floated in Europe to sell out British and Dutch shares of URENCO to private buyers.  Such a sale would have made URENCO privately owned across the board.  It would still have been answerable to government regulators, of course.

But the wholesale private sell-out would have added an unprecedented layer of opacity to uranium enrichment in Europe, which had been operated hands-on by quasi-governmental entities since the early 1970s.  That this proposal was bruited shortly after Goldman Sachs started dealing in physical uranium (and formally announced early in 2013) – a move that put big chunks of uranium in a vertical stovepipe and thereby added a heavy veil of opacity over their distribution – doesn’t seem like coincidence.  It seems like a light bulb coming on over someone’s head:  a pair of measures designed to obscure the progress of at least some uranium through two major steps in the nuclear fuel cycle.

URENCO’s European headquarters in Stoke Poges (Buckinghamshire), UK. URENCO

I promised a downright fascinating passage in all this drama.  And here it is.

It’s the remarkable story of who went to URENCO as a senior official about two years before the privatization proposal was formally floated.  His name probably won’t mean a whole lot to most readers:  it was Prince Johan Friso Van Oranje-Nassau van Amsberg of the Netherlands, who assumed a position with URENCO in January 2011.  (Sadly, the prince, brother of King Willem-Alexander, died at 44 of injuries from a skiing accident in August 2013.)

But Prince Friso’s c.v. and family connections tell the tale.  He came to URENCO from stints with Wolfensohn & Co, McKinsey, and Goldman Sachs, each of which has a connection to the transnational dynamics of Russiagate and Spygate.  James D. Wolfensohn, president of the World Bank from 1995 to 2005, was a contemporary and associate of George Soros and joined him in a presentation in 2015 on the future of the Bretton Woods monetary regime, in which they emphasized the split of global monetary influences into “rival camps.”

Starting in 2009, Wolfensohn was also “a member of the International Advisory Council of the Chinese sovereign wealth fund China Investment Corporation.”  (Curiously enough, he also took on administering the Israeli pullout from Gaza in 2005.)

McKinsey, we have noted before, has been a revolving-door consultancy for numerous senior positions with the U.S. and other governments, as well as major global corporations.  Among other things, its executives were involved in aspects of events connected to the data-mining set-up of the Trump organization (the “Alfa Bank” caper) outlined in John Durham’s court filings for the Michael Sussmann prosecution in 2021 and 2022.

And Prince Friso was a veteran executive of Goldman Sachs, the largest private donor to Obama’s 2008 campaign, and the company that, two years before Friso went to URENCO, had taken the unprecedented and still-unique step of becoming a dealer in physical uranium.

George Soros (YouTube screen grab)

But it’s a more personal connection that really tears the roof off the sucker, as the popular song by the funk group Parliament had it.  Friso’s wife, Mabel Wisse Smit, is a long-time executive with George Soros’s Open Society Institute, and a co-founder of Soros’s European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR).  Although that’s really all we need to know, it’s also worth noting, as accomplished Russiagate sleuths are aware, that the ECFR is a venue in which personalities from the European subsidiary of Russiagate/Spygate, Inc. have met frequently for years.

So that’s who gained a senior executive position with URENCO shortly before the push began to sell off its government-owned UK and Dutch shares to private interests.

While the push was in high gear, U.S.-owned uranium enrichment capability was being allowed to drop to zero.  USEC went bankrupt in the U.S. in 2013; pushback built throughout that year against a URENCO privatization, from lawmakers and bureaucracies in both London and The Hague.  Ultimately the pushback’s momentum prevailed and the privatization didn’t go forward. 

It was still being flogged in 2015 and 2016, however, as the August 2016 date neared for Ukraine to conclude the contract with URENCO for enriched uranium – the contract that would expand the edge-out of Russia as Ukraine’s supplier.  Keep in mind, this development occurred in the wake of Westinghouse’s gain of Ukrainian business in 2010, when Westinghouse’s Swedish plant began selling fuel elements to Ukraine.  That was also effectively an edge-out of a Russian supplier.  That contract has been renewed and increased in scope several times over the ensuing decade.

We may reasonably speculate that a lull in URENCO’s excitable palpitations between 2017 and 2021 was due to Donald Trump becoming president in the United States.  The Trump administration appears to have fostered a U.S. venture to bring online a new enrichment plant with an updated approach, pursuing new-generation gas centrifuge technology and the use of “HALEU” (high-assay low-enriched uranium) as fuel.  The HALEU line of effort, it was hoped, would put a U.S.-owned uranium enricher back on the map, something optimistically projected for 2022 (although it seems to be taking a little longer).

And the privatization push for URENCO went quiet in Europe in the same period.

But since President Biden took office, what’s noteworthy is the high profile and determination of the effort to shift Ukraine’s uranium products sourcing not just to Ukraine, but to URENCO and implicitly to the cooperative enterprises of URENCO and U.S. entities.

The war this time

In the abstract, there would be nothing inherently indicative in this about the politics of oligarchy, geopolitical struggle, and resentment.  Westerners are apt to insist con brio that it’s perfectly obvious why Ukraine would want to shed dependency on Russia and throw in with Europe, and in any case Russia is terrible so Ukraine is on the right track.  There’s no value in arguing that point.  We can certainly agree with it.

Putin’s interminable video address 21 Feb 2022. Sky News video, YouTube

But we must acknowledge that we are agreeing with a political point of view, not stating an objective reality.  The objective reality is that with Russia, Ukraine, and Soros-influenced entities involved, this uranium saga is, in fact, about oligarchy, geopolitical struggle, and resentment.

This is what it means to acknowledge that corruption is endemic in Ukraine.  It means that that’s what Ukraine’s sagas are:  melodramas in which some elements in society have legitimately political aspirations based on principle (which I believe exist in Ukraine), and those elements are actually, no-kidding in the arena with oligarchs – Ukrainians quite as much as Russians – who live by Cypriot bank accounts, payola, and drive-by shootings in suburbs both local and hundreds or thousands of miles from Kharkiv.

Back in the late 1990s, Soros took on a major fight with Russia in that arena when he attacked the ruble, as he had attacked the Bank of England and the British pound a few years before.  Neither party has ever gotten over it.  Russia certainly backs anti-Soros propaganda, but Soros backs anti-Russian propaganda quite as much, including through such bit players in Russiagate/Spygate as the Estonian intelligence service (under the presidency of Soros’s close friend Toomas Hendrik Ilves; see here and here) and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in Prague, Czech Republic, whose media center Soros funded when the U.S. Congress pulled away from the organization in the 1990s (here, here and here).

We need carry no brief whatsoever for Russia, to recognize that Western influence isn’t always fighting Russian enterprises in third countries through the noble and virtuous front door.  History, less invested than we are in current politics, will one day acknowledge in hindsight that there has been a shadow war going on among the ghosts of the old Warsaw Pact – many of whom were warmed over from preceding centuries.  The oligarchy of today’s syndicate-thug commercial interests, dealing in currency and natural resources, is just Communist oligarchy by other means; and Communist oligarchy, in forms and practice, was largely latter-day imperial-era oligarchy plucked from the refrigerator and stuck in the oven for half an hour at 350 degrees.

I suspect this is one reason media coverage of the war in Ukraine has been so artificial-sounding from the first week.  (Not the only one, but perhaps a key reason.)

In a real sense, there’s a good case that it’s a cartel war with national flags, being narrated by the media of a rigorous 24-hour news cycle in an era of reality TV, with its suspense cuts and resolutions built around the commercial breaks.  It’s a real war, with real destruction and havoc being wrought on Ukraine.  But the antiseptic political pieties in which it’s being framed by the media and Western politicians aren’t its bottom-line reality.  Reality keeps leaking away from that tidy rendering across the edge of the frame.

A final angle

There are some other things history will consider significant.  One is the odd story of Vyacheslav Danylenko, a Ukrainian nuclear weapons scientist educated in the Soviet era, who was reported to have assisted Iran in developing applications and parts for an explosive detonator (for a nuclear warhead) in the period 1995 to 2001.  (Mr. Danylenko says he didn’t.)

A. Q. Khan in his earlier years (he was 84 in 2020). Via Encyclopedia Britannica.

Another is the connection of URENCO with Pakistani proliferator A.Q. Khan, who pilfered URENCO for uranium enrichment schematics in the 1970s.  That was a long time ago, but not insignificant, given U.S. congressional concerns in the 1990s about the involvement of Clinton cronies with Pakistan’s Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI), which funded much of Khan’s nuclear proliferation work in the 1980s.

But the angle for this final segment is the one involving China.  Keeping in mind the timeline of 2004, when the U.S. and Ukraine initiated the KIPT-ANL project; 2009, when Obama took office and Goldman Sachs started dealing in uranium; 2010, when Russia was allowed to buy Uranium One, Obama held his nuclear security summit, and Ukraine began buying uranium fuel from Westinghouse; 2011, when Obama issued the update on an expanded project in Ukraine (which would produce a state-of-the-art neutron source facility), URENCO’s operation of the New Mexico uranium enrichment plant was in full swing, and the proposal to privatize URENCO was kicked off; 2013, when Hillary left the State Department, information emerged that China was a participant in the expanded KIPT-ANL project in Kharkiv, the privatization proposal for URENCO was, for the moment, squashed, and USEC took bankruptcy – keeping all that in mind, consider these additional timeline points.

In 2009, Hunter Biden and his partners formed their investment firm Rosemont Seneca.  In 2010, they met with Chinese representatives shortly before Obama’s nuclear security summit, while Xi Jinping was in Washington, D.C. (for the summit) meeting with Vice President Joe Biden.  Less than two weeks after the summit, Rosemont Seneca formed a joint venture with the Bank of China in the form of the investment fund Bohai Harvest RST (BHR).

Via Liberty Unyielding

Also in 2010, Bill Gates announced an investment by his company TerraPower in molten salt- reactor technology, which could have applications involving thorium (as hinted in the South Korean paper on rapid neutron sourcing).  In 2011, Gates announced he was in discussions with China on reactor development under the TerraPower brand.  In 2013, industry reporting indicated TerraPower, working with China, Russia, the U.S., and others, was exploring alternatives like thorium in its quest for reactor technology.

In 2013, Russia, which had been selling the U.S. excess uranium from the Soviet era under the “Megatons to Megawatts” anti-proliferation program, switched to selling us newly mined and milled uranium.  U.S. companies were using this Russian uranium instead of contracting for uranium mined in the U.S.

In 2013 and early 2014, the Maidan Revolution raged in Ukraine, resulting in the flight from Ukraine of then-President Viktor Yanukovych in February 2014.  At the same time, Russia began a stealth invasion of Ukraine and ultimately annexed Crimea later that year.  In April and May 2014, Hunter Biden and Devon Archer of BHR took seats on the board of Ukrainian natural gas company Burisma.

The joint project in Kharkiv continued, in spite of the Russian invasion and instability in nearby Donbas, and the KIPT-ANL facility was unveiled in December 2014.

Also in December 2014, as recounted in the New York Post, “BHR became an ‘anchor investor’ in the IPO of China General Nuclear Power Corp. (CGN), a state-owned energy company involved in the construction of nuclear reactors.”

In October 2015, Bill Gates and the China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) signed an agreement to jointly develop a next-generation reactor using molten-salt technology.  The reactor would be built in China.

YouTube

The KIPT-ANL facility was completed by the end of 2015, as described in the “Joint Project in Kharkiv” section (above) by an ANL update, and was to begin full operations in 2016.  Note that Ukraine had been buying uranium fuel elements from Westinghouse for some five years at that point.  It’s not clear if the KIPT-ANL project went ahead using Russian-supplied uranium fuel (discussed above) after the Crimea takeover in 2014, or if it used an alternative source instead.

In April 2016, about a year and a half after BHR invested in China’s CGN nuclear enterprise, NY Post reports that the U.S Justice Department charged “CGN with stealing nuclear secrets from the United States — actions prosecutors said could cause ‘significant damage to our national security.’”

Meanwhile, by early 2015, bankrupt USEC had been reorganized as Centrus, and Daniel Poneman, a veteran of posts in the Clinton and Obama administrations, had been named as the CEO.  It appeared that the U.S. would at some point get back in the uranium enrichment business under an American brand.

That didn’t happen, however, until the Trump Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) in 2017 affirmed a national security priority of revamping American capabilities in that regard.

In October 2018, the Trump DOE “announced its decision to reestablish a domestic uranium-enrichment capability in the United States.”

The same month, Trump issued new trade regulations that restricted investment in China on nuclear projects.  Then-Secretary of Energy Rick Perry “cited national-security concerns about China obtaining nuclear energy ‘outside of established processes of U.S.-China civil nuclear cooperation.’” The DOJ findings about CGN in 2016 were presumably relevant.

Energy Secretary Rick Perry speaks at a conference in 2019. AP video, YouTube

The restrictions directly affected Bill Gates’s TerraPower venture in China, much to Gates’s chagrin.  In December 2018, he lamented that the venture would have to be shut down as a result of the regulatory shift.  (More here.)

Over in Europe, in 2020, URENCO resumed shipping depleted uranium to Russia after a hiatus of some 10 years.  The interruption had started well prior to the 2014 takeover of Crimea, under pressure from activist groups, and it wasn’t clear why the shipments began again in 2020.

In 2021, Ukraine doubled down on buying enriched uranium and uranium fuel elements from Western sources URENCO and Westinghouse.  At the same time, Kyiv accelerated the push to develop the country’s own resources as described earlier:  an effort the government made emphatic announcements about in January 2022.

After Russia invaded Ukraine in 2022, URENCO stopped shipments to and from Russia:

In April 2022, Ukraine decided to go with URENCO for its enriched uranium needs, dropping Russia as a supplier.  This, we can agree, needs no explanation.

Back in the U.S., Centrus – the company implementing new enrichment technology – has been completing a contract with DOE this year with its retooled facility in Piketon, Ohio.  A fresh contract for HALEU production is up for bid, and although Centrus, with a proven record, has been considered nearly a sure thing to get it, Representative Bill Foster (D-IL) isn’t happy about that.  URENCO also wants to get into the HALEU business in the U.S., and Foster sees that as desirable.  (At the moment, Russia has the only company producing HALEU commercially on the planet.)

Some congressmen have been worried since the Centrus HALEU project was launched that the company was being favored because of CEO Poneman’s connection with the Obama administration.  (He was Obama’s Secretary of Energy from 2009 to 2014.)  Notably, Poneman is also a fellow at the Paulson Institute, which is dedicated to fostering the U.S.-China relationship.  Paulson’s Chairman Henry M. Paulson, Jr., hosted Xi Jinping in a visit to Washington State in 2015, and Bill Gates was a noteworthy participant – see here and here – which was also when Gates announced his joint nuclear reactor venture with China’s CNNC.

Video screen cap, YouTube

Speaking of Gates, he has decided to build TerraPower’s experimental reactor in Wyoming instead of in China.  TerraPower is expected to benefit from millions in grants from Biden’s “Inflation Reduction” Act, as well as the Trump-era Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program.

Feature image: Uranium yellowcake. New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources.

 

* The Uranium Jerky series can be found at these links:

Uranium jerky: The strange path through a decade of peculiar developments – Part I

Uranium jerky: M/V Arctic Sea’s rogue adventure – Part II

Uranium jerky: The tale told by timing and accusations in M/V Arctic Sea saga – Part III

Uranium jerky: Rumors of radioactivity, and a strange aftermath to the strange Arctic Sea incident – Part IV

Uranium jerky: Coincidences with moving uranium around – Part V

Uranium jerky: Coincidences with shipping, big data, and a special niche of the industry – Part VI

Additional related articles with significant background on the uranium trade and its links to Russiagate/Spygate

On the dossier: Yes, it was salacious, unverified fiction. Reality all along was what Obama, Clinton cabals were doing

Four pings on the partially declassified Christopher Steele interview documents

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6 thoughts on “Uranium jerky: Angle on Ukraine (Part VII)”

  1. Will certainly put Eunice on my list. Savored opacity for a few moments. Thorium is my pick. In closing: Don’t look at your feet when skiing. And, Kharkiv/Odessa keep popping up as desirable destinations.

  2. Zirconium is used in chemical processes as heat exchanger tubes in a number of corrosive chemicals as the “poor man’s ” titanium. Three is a fair amount of it just sitting in alluvial riverbed deposits in Guyana, along with tantalum.

  3. Sounds like a Mafia war over resources. And Misfud is involved?

    I have no problem supporting Ukraine because wars of conquest are outdated. But what I want from Zelenskyy is the names of US politicians and their families who are involved with Ukrainian corruption. Wherever it leads.

    And it’s interesting how Putin has to be careful in drafting new, raw recruits. Yet tens of thousands are fleeing.

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