US ban on Russian uranium could backfire – Asia Times

US ban on Russian uranium could backfire - Asia Times

The Prohibiting Russian Uranium Imports Act, which prohibits the transfer of unirradiated low-enriched uranium ( LEU) produced in the Russian Federation or by a Russian object, is then signed into law by US President, Joe Biden.

Discounts may be granted to let the trade of minimal amounts of LEU, under specific circumstances, until January 1, 2028. The Department of Energy ( DOE ) is authorized by the new legislation to grant waivers authorizing the total volume of Russian uranium imports that are within the export restrictions established by an earlier anti-dumping treaty between the Department of Commerce and Russia, which expires in 2027.

There are forecasts for the need and grant of exemptions. ” No one will try” to enforce the law without granting discounts, says Alexey Anpilogov, a Soviet political scientist and professional in nuclear energy – “because American nuclear reactors produce low power. Additionally, the natural transition that was initiated in the United States requires the survival of nuclear power as a carbon-neutral industry.

A longer past

Russian-enriched uranium has a long record of US issue. The US nuclear power market launched an anti-dumping petition in 1991 to stop the flow of cheap Russian enhancement services into the US following the Soviet Union’s collapse. The US Department of Commerce and Russia’s Ministry of Atomic Energy ( now Rosatom ) signed the Russian Suspension Agreement ( RS A ) in 1992 as a result of this. Russian enriched plutonium imports were formalized by the contract. It was amended in 2008 and 2020.

According to the US Energy Information Administration, Russia has been supplying about 24 % of enriched uranium used to fuel the US fleet of 94 commercial reactors, with 12 % coming from Germany and 11 % from the UK. US production accounts for 27 %.

According to the US DOE, Russia accounts for roughly 44 % of the world’s uranium enrichment capacity and supplies about 35 % of US imports of nuclear fuel.

Production for the United States Enrichment Corporation ( USEC ) stopped in 2001. Following its debt in 2014, USEC re-joined as Centrus Energy Corp. Centrus works as a dealer of enriched uranium, sourcing international supplies for US and worldwide clients, while developing innovative spinning technologies with the intention of restoring US home uranium enrichment capabilities.

According to Centrus’s 2023 monthly statement to the US Securities &amp, Exchange Commission, Russia’s Tenex is Centrus’s largest provider, followed by French business Orano. Tenex and Centrus have agreements to provide Russian enhancement service until 2028.

Centrus has stated in full that it will obtain waivers from the minister of power and other relevant government agencies in order to keep supplying LEU to its customers. ” It is questionable whether any cancellation may be granted and, if granted, whether any exemption may be granted in a timely manner”, it noted. The Company anticipates having sufficient cash to assistance its business activities for at least the upcoming 12 weeks.

Urenco’s facility in New Mexico, which started operations in 2010, is the only professional enhancement procedure in the US. Urenco is cooperatively owned by the UK, Germany and the Netherlands.

Urenco approved an investment to increase the number of enriched products at its center in the Netherlands at the end of next year. Urenco received a$ 96 million ($ 245 million ) grant earlier in May to construct a new uranium enrichment facility at its Capenhurst site in northwest England.

Apart from Russia, additional countries with enhancement potential include Argentina, Brazil, China, France, Germany, India, Iran, Japan, the Netherlands, North Korea, Pakistan, and the UK. Some are nowadays seeking to expand their infrastructure.

Russia is currently the only commercial source of the more highly enriched high-assay low-enriched uranium ( HALEU) fuel that many of the small and advanced reactors are currently in the design stage need.

Some companies in the US, with national aid, are in the process of producing HALEU. Under a 2019 deal with &nbsp, DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy, Centrus licensed and built a new sequence of 16 centrifuges at Piketon, Ohio, to exhibit production of &nbsp, HALEU. The Piketon presentation project second produced HALEU for next-generation reactors last year, and it intends to increase production to 900 kilograms soon. But, this is nowhere near enough to fill the gap that will be left &nbsp, if Russian products cease. &nbsp,

Enthusiasm in the Biden presidency

The ban has piqued the interest of US authorities. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan quoted as saying that the new law “re-establishes America’s authority in the nuclear industry. It will help safeguard the future of our electricity industry. And it will help to boost the United States ‘ record-breaking$ 2.72 billion in federal money, which Congress just appropriated at the President’s request, and send a strong message to market that we are committed to long-term progress in our nuclear industry.

Sullivan noted that the law likewise fulfills international goals, such as a US announcement last year that the United States and Canada, France, Japan, and the UK would invest$ 4.2 billion to increase their potential for advancement and change. ” With these resources from Congress, we have nicely- exceeded that commitment and are working with business to understand this ambition”, Sullivan said. &nbsp,

The  ban, according to Board, “brings us one step closer to developing a reliable source of nuclear energy that will be necessary for the United States and its allies to triple nuclear power by 2050, creating thousands of high-paying work along the way.” &nbsp,

Squeezing the industry

Concerns about fuel supplies &nbsp were having an impact on the myriad of companies that have created designs for small and advanced modular reactors, some with significant government support, even before the ban became law. Although the majority of companies are still in the design phase, many still have very optimistic goals for deploying their first reactors by 2030. &nbsp,

For instance, the US TerraPower and GE-Hitachi Nuclear Energy-developed Natrium technology includes a 345 megawatt liquid-sodium-cooled fast reactor with a distinct molten-salt-based energy storage system. &nbsp, Along with PacifiCorp and GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy, members of the demonstration project team include engineering and construction partner Bechtel, Energy Northwest, Duke Energy and nearly a dozen additional companies, universities and national laboratory partners.

Natrium is one of two Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program ( ARDP ) projects that DOE has supported in a competitively selected manner. In order to launch a demonstration unit by 2028, the company had originally intended to use Russian-provided HALEU fuel to start operation in 2028. However, concerns about &nbsp, Russian HALEU deliveries have pushed the commissioning date to 2030.

The uranium ban legislation expires at the end of 2040. While one of its goals is to undermine Russia’s position as the world’s leader in terms of nuclear fuel and technology, Russian officials have been quick to point out that the world market is likely to suffer the most from its most detrimental effects.

Kremlin reaction

Rosatom, a state nuclear corporation in Russia, described the ban as a discriminatory political move that would threaten the world’s exchange for enriched uranium but not prevent Russia from expanding its global business.

Russian nuclear industry is not in any danger from the ban, according to Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for the Kremlin.” It’s difficult for Americans to compete with us on the international market,” he added. According to Peskov, “our nuclear industry is one of the most developed in the world.” ” We will continue to develop this industry”.

Russia’s ambassador in Washington, Anatoly Antonov, &nbsp, said:

The Administration continues to pursue its stillborn strategy of economic devastation. The current attack, which will impact both Russia and the world market for uranium fuel used in nuclear power plants, will cause fresh shocks in international economic relations. Uranium exporters and importers ‘ delicate relationship is in jeopardized. Washington is putting its own economy at risk by having a sufficient level of national enrichment capacity. Additionally, the financial losses for Russia will be much greater than for the United States.

The world leader

Rosatom is the world leader&nbsp, in terms of the number of nuclear reactor construction projects being undertaken simultaneously, with three units in Russia and 33 abroad.

Moreover, its foreign projects all involve ongoing technical support, training and 60- year- long fuel supplies. Rosatom has also become Brazil’s exclusive supplier of enriched uranium products since 2023. This long-term partnership with Brasilia replaces previous imports from European and Canadian consortiums. &nbsp,

Rosatom’s foreign projects include:

  • The four-unit Akkuyu NPP in Turkiye Akkuyu is being constructed.
  • the four-unit El Dabaa NPP is undergoing construction in Egypt.
  • four more units at Kudankulam NPP in India, with promises of further contracts,
  • four units in China, and
  • two units in Bangladesh.

Several countries in sub- Saharan Africa including Burkina Faso, Mali, Zimbabwe, Rwanda, Burundi, Kenya and Ethiopia also have agreements related to nuclear energy with Rosatom. It is also negotiating with Sri Lanka and South Africa. It is finishing up the construction of a research reactor and laboratory complex in Bolivia. &nbsp,

Anpilogov, the expert quoted in the third paragraph of this article, claimed that the ban would mean that the US would no longer be able to replace Russia’s LEU and HALEU deliveries for a while. He also stated to the Sputnik news agency that the US would be unable to replace the US with a quarter or even a third of all American nuclear generation.

He emphasized that, if the DOE should fail to issue waivers, the US nuclear fuel market could collapse, leading to skyrocketing costs of enriched uranium. He also suggested that US businesses might use “gray schemes” to buy Russian nuclear fuel, disguised as contracts with French or other foreign companies. &nbsp, &nbsp,

” Back in the 1980s, the Americans de facto destroyed their enrichment industry because it was ineffective, being based on old gaseous- diffusion technologies”, said Ampilogov, who is president of Russia’s Foundation for Support of Scientific Research and Development of Civil Initiatives Research. They spent 30 years purchasing Russian uranium at a relatively low price. The cornerstone of America’s nuclear energy generation ca n’t be abandoned through a simple vote in Congress”.

After launching a similar initiative in 2019, Ampilogov pointed out that it took the US about four years to produce the first 20 kilograms of HALEU. He noted that the planned UK enrichment plant is only expected to start producing its first batch of HALEU in 2031, and that” a lot is going to change on the market” by that time.