The US plan to break Russia’s grip on nuclear fuel – by Jamie Smyth and Sarah White (January 21, 2024)

Demand for atomic energy is surging but Moscow dominates the world’s supplies of enriched uranium

Shortly after Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine in 2022, the US banned all imports of Russian oil, liquefied natural gas and coal. But not all energy supplies were included in the US sanctions, nor in those of its European allies. On the contrary, western powers have taken care not to interrupt the flow of raw materials and services from Russia’s state-owned nuclear giant Rosatom and its subsidiary Tenex.

Moscow’s invasion exposed many vulnerabilities in US and European energy supplies, not least in the nuclear sector, where more than a fifth of the enriched uranium fuel required to power both regions’ nuclear fleets comes from Russia.

For the US energy sector, it was a call to action. Utilities companies have spent two years stockpiling nuclear fuel in case Russian supplies are disrupted. At the same time, Washington is undertaking a multibillion-dollar push to rebuild its nuclear supply chain, which was ravaged by a collapse in demand after the Fukushima accident in 2011 and years of neglect.

The earthquake and tsunami, which hit the east coast of Japan, caused the worst nuclear disaster for a quarter of a century and prompted many governments to rethink deployment of the technology. The sudden pullback in investment sparked a crisis for many private companies supplying uranium and ancillary services, such as conversion and enrichment, which are needed to fuel reactors.

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