US uranium imports from Russia more than double in 6M23

By bne IntelliNews September 1, 2023

US uranium imports from Russia were up 2.2-fold in 2022 to 416 tonnes in the first six months of this year, as Washington is forced to admit that it remains heavily dependent on Russian nuclear fuel.

The US has its own deposits of uranium, but they are insufficiently developed to supply its burgeoning nuclear power plant (NPP) sector. And despite having been the home of the Manhattan Project, the US lacks sufficient processing power to refine raw uranium into the burnable U235 – a business that Russia dominates globally.

In the first six months of the year, the US more than doubled its imports of Russian uranium, spending $695.5mn in the process. Experts say that it will take at least five years of heavy investment for the US to break its dependency on Russian imports of U235.

Former US Deputy Secretary of Energy Dan Poneman noted that the US and other importers of Russian uranium are confronted with a crucial choice: either to persist with the imports from Russia or shut their reactors down.

While its gas export business withers away, Russia’s nuclear exports are booming and nuclear technology and U235 have become the new gas as the Kremlin seeks to bind countries to its axis with nuclear power plants (NPPs).

Russia has built, or has orders to build, some 40 reactors around the world, and around the same number at home. The Kremlin also usually provides financing for up to 80% of the costs of construction, providing a very appealing package for other energy-starved developing markets.

As a Russian-built NPP usually comes with a 60-year service contract and fuel supplies, Russia’s NPP deals provide the Kremlin with a long-term stable dependency that it can exploit. Countries that have recently bought a Russian NPP include Belarus, whose facility is already operating, as well as South Africa and Egypt.

Supplies of raw U 235 to “unfriendly” countries like the US also give Moscow leverage in the current geopolitical standoff. Nuclear technology and fuel have been kept off the sanctions lists.

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