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As Members of Congress debate the future of the U.S. Export-Import Bank (Ex-Im), my company, Holtec International, has a unique perspective on the Bank’s value to the nuclear power sector—and the future of Ukraine—that I would like to share with all stakeholders in America’s well-being.
Based in New Jersey, Holtec International designs and manufactures components for nuclear reactors. Among other products, we make equipment to manage spent nuclear fuel. Ex-Im plays a vital role for the U.S. nuclear industry, as others have correctly pointed out, but we have not sought the Bank’s assistance—until now.
Shortly after the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, Holtec was the winner of an international competition to establish a Central Spent Fuel Storage Facility (CSFSF) in 2005. This facility is critical to eliminating Ukraine’s dependence on Russia which, at present, stores 60% of Ukraine’s used fuel—for a hefty fee.
Ukraine’s nuclear plants, which provide nearly half of the country’s electricity, would be forced to shut down if Russia decided to stop accepting Ukraine’s used fuel. The previous government in Ukraine was all too willing to let shipments of Ukraine’s used fuel to Russia continue, which was one of the many ways Ukraine’s previous rulers plundered the country.
The new government in Kiev now faces the urgent task of extricating the country’s nuclear industry from Russia’s sway. A highly respected nuclear expert—Yuryi Nedashkovsky—has been appointed to get the CSFSF project moving forward, and he is proceeding with great energy. Our long-stalled project is now being negotiated to update the selling price and start it at the earliest possible date.
The CSFSF project will create some 200 well-paying jobs in the United States and a similar number in Ukraine. In the next 10 years, it will save Ukraine more than $1.8 billion in fees it would otherwise have paid to Russia and give the country full autonomy in a key energy sector. In commercial terms, the revenue generated by the operating CSFSF will pay off the investment made to build it in a mere four years.
The only problem is funding. Because of the socio-political trauma instigated by Russian aggression in Crimea and eastern Ukraine, Ex-Im’s support is essential, indeed indispensable, to the construction of the central storage facility in Ukraine. Despite intensive scouting, we have been unable to get any commercial bank to loan the funds to the Ukrainian national utility for this project.
Needless to say, loosening Russia’s grip on Ukraine’s energy sector is consistent with U.S. foreign policy objectives. Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt in Kiev strongly supports the project, as do Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and all former U.S. ambassadors to Ukraine who are familiar with this project.
For our country to help Ukraine in this critical project, Ex-Im’s charter must be renewed: It is the only viable loan guarantor that can make this project go forward. Citibank, which has had a long presence in Ukraine, says it would consider loaning funds for the project if Ex-Im were to provide the loan guarantee.
We consider Ex-Im a valuable instrument of our government’s foreign policy to help our friends around the world as well as a useful tool for supporting U.S. exports and jobs. Extinguishing Ex-Im would do great harm to our national interest. I hope Congress is listening.
Dr. Singh is President and CEO of Holtec International.