Ukraine is planning to spend $1.7b to bring its nuclear power facilities up to current Western standards in an attempt to enhance country’s electricity generation capacity and acquire energy independence from Moscow, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported. Ukraine is seeking to lower its dependence on Russia also with regard to the fuel powering the nuclear plants, supplied by Russia’s Rosatom, in addition to US based Westinghouse. Ukrainian officials hope to potentially export some of the generated electricity to Western Europe as part of an EU-Ukraine Energy Bridge.

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and Euratom, the EU’s nuclear agency, have enhanced the nuclear investments with a $600m contribution. Western Europe backs up Ukrainian plans to upgrade its nuclear facilities instead of shutting down its fleet of Soviet-era nuclear power reactors, nearly 30 years after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.

Meanwhile, Kiev signed an agreement with Westinghouse to supply nuclear fuel to up to six of its reactors by 2020 and made preliminary arrangements for the US supplier to provide nuclear fuel to all of its 15 reactors in the future, if Russia should ever freeze fuel shipment. Westinghouse also welcomes the investments to improve the efficiency of the Ukrainian nuclear power plants. “These reactors are only working 70% of available time vs the industry average of 90%,”  Westinghouse’s Regional Vice President for Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, Michael. E. Kirst, told the Kyiv Post earlier. “That 20% gap is generation over a year’s period that is equivalent to 2,000 MW or two nuclear reactors.” To fill the gap, an investment of some $300m is required, which is ten times lower than investment needs for building a new reactor that would take at least five years to come online.

Nuclear power accounts for around 50% of Ukrainian electricity. Enerhoatom, the state-run nuclear energy operator, runs 15 reactors at four nuclear power plants, including Europe’s largest power plant at Zaporizhzhya. The plants are all equipped with pressurized reactors known by their Russian abbreviation, VVER, which are Russian-designed upgrades to the graphite-moderated RBMK reactors found at the decommissioned Chernobyl nuclear power plant.