Possible Russian sanctions on Enriched Uranium, can US and EU replace them?

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Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P. Chacko is the publisher of Frontier India. He holds an M.B.A in International Business. Books: Author: Foxtrot to Arihant: The Story of Indian Navy's Submarine Arm; Co Author : Warring Navies - India and Pakistan. *views are Personal

Russia is outside the top three uranium miners but comes fourth with 8 per cent of the world’s Uranium. However, natural Uranium is practically not used as fuel for reactors. The only exceptions are a few heavy water reactors in Canada, which are economically justified due to significant uranium deposits and -powerful hydroelectric power plants, making it possible to produce heavy water on an industrial scale.

But Russia ranks relatively high in the process of uranium enrichment, which is about 35 per cent (as per some sources 43%) of the world’s Enriched Uranium production. The US and EU reactors use these products for their reactors. Rosatom is the sole producer of the product in Russia. The second place in uranium enrichment is occupied by the Anglo-German-Dutch company URENCO, which produces 29.3% of enriched Uranium, the third is the Chinese CNNC (16%), and the fourth is the French Orano (11%). All other producers operating in Japan, Pakistan, Brazil, Iran, India and Argentina do not collectively produce even one per cent of enriched Uranium. Neither Westinghouse nor any other American company is on this list.

By 2017, new ninth-generation centrifuges were put into operation by Russia, producing enriched Uranium 10 times cheaper than their earliest samples. Exact data on the cost of uranium enrichment by different companies is a commercial secret since enrichment is mainly carried out under long-term contracts, and the parties reserve the right not to disclose their terms. However, the consulting company Uranium Exchange Company (UxC) regularly publishes exchange trading data, where a small part of uranium and enrichment services are sold.

Uranium enrichment is measured in separation work units (SWU). The exchange value of 1 SWU on the stock exchange in 2020 was at the level of $47, while in 2000, Rosatom, when enrichment took place on 7th generation centrifuges, reported that its services cost much less – at the level of $20 per SWU. That is, at least 2.5 times cheaper than its competitors. 

This also explains the fact that Urenco, the largest company after Rosatom, which also enriches Uranium for nuclear power plants, produces part of its technological chain at Russian plants.

The French Orano also cooperates with Rosatom, for which the Russian company performs additional Uranium enrichment. 

As you can see, Rosatom is the most important technological partner of other major companies in the industry, and this is beneficial for everyone except for the United States.

The US receives nuclear fuel for their reactors from the European Urenco, which has built the only uranium enrichment plant in the United States. However, it provides no more than 85% of the needs of American nuclear power plants. US imports low-enriched Uranium (HALEU) from Russia, which amounts to about 20% of the US needs.

Suppose Russia imposes a ban on cooperation between Rostom’s activities and Western companies. In that case, the US and Europe will instantly face a severe shortage of nuclear fuel and, as a result, a new energy crisis.

This will lead to financial injections into its nuclear industry by the West (the US has a headstart by asking Congress for $4billion for enriched Uranium production), as the percentage of profits on the nuclear fuel market will sharply increase.

After ten years, new plants will be built, which, at the very least, will be able to enrich Uranium on their own – although it will cost several times more than the Russian option. And, as usual, in the end, all the costs will fall on the shoulders of European and American consumers, who will pay even more for electricity than they do now.

Arguments against the logic

The Russians do not dominate the world and European market for Enriched Uranium. This translates into the possibility of replacing them, especially since nuclear power plants have quite a long fuel cycle. One doesn’t have to stand with a shovel and throw Uranium into the reactor all the time. 

EU plans to embargo Russian Nuclear fuel

Germany is pushing fr a ban on Russian enriched Uranium. Other EU countries suspect that the German chancellor plans to push its processing capacity. Germany has a nuclear fuel production plant that is operational, although it is getting rid of the power plants themselves.

The Czechs have already excluded the Russians from the tender to expand their nuclear capacity. The Finnish have removed the Russians from the Hanhikivi nuclear power plant under construction. The American talks with individual Central European countries are slowly taking shape. For example, Romania is expanding the Cernavoda Nuclear power plant with American money and using local technologies. Bulgaria is also likely to cooperate with the US. Poland is expected to select the US bid for its power plant. Some countries may prefer the Russians to build nuclear plants with Russian money. These are Belarus, Hungary (and African states) – regions where Russian influence is strong or is being strengthened.


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