The USA, Britain, Canada, Japan and France struck an agreement at the Nuclear Energy Forum at the G7 in Sapporo on April 16 to expel Russia from the international nuclear fuel market. However, getting rid of Russia’s nuclear fuel is easier said than done.
European countries, as well as the United States, will reduce the import of enriched uranium from Russia. That is, they will simply gradually abandon it.
However, the situation is very ambiguous because, on the one hand, Russia’s share in world uranium production does not exceed 10%, but when it comes to uranium enrichment [its share is] about 50%.
Non-enriched uranium is simply mined uranium. But if you put it in the reactor, the reaction will not go, because there are impurities that interfere [in the process]. Thus, it is necessary to purify uranium from these impurities and obtain uranium-235.
On April 16, five countries of the Group of Seven, namely, the UK, USA, Canada, Japan and France, pledged to squeeze Russia from the nuclear fuel market as quickly as possible in order to deal a blow to the country’s economy and fundamentally leave Russia out in the cold amid its special military operation to demilitarize and de-Nazify Ukraine.
Earlier this year, Western mainstream press fretted over the Old Continent’s unwillingness to slap restrictions on Russia’s nuclear industry even though the EU earlier moved to phase out and completely ban the country’s other energy commodities such as oil, petroleum products, gas and coal.
The media dubbed the EU-Russia nuclear cooperation the habit Europe just can’t break.
As per the EU’s Euratom Supply Agency (ESA), Russia’s Rosatom nuclear corporation in 2021 supplied the bloc’s reactors with 20% of their natural uranium and provided the EU with 31% of their uranium enrichment services.
It’s obvious that Washington is behind the initiative to ban Russia’s nuclear fuel, according to the energy expert. Previously, the USA twisted the EU hand into abandoning Russia’s fossil fuels and replacing Russian natural gas with American LNG.
The USA has exerted persistent pressure on smaller states of Eastern and Central Europe who receive financial support from Brussels, Khazanov noted, adding that some of them are being threatened of being deprived of funding.
In May 2022, Finland rejected a plan to build a Russian nuclear power plant in the Nordic country. However, it’s not so easy to ditch Russian nuclear fuel when it comes to existing atomic stations driven by Russia-made reactors.
If we are talking about Europe, neither solar nor wind power plants will completely replace traditional [means of] generation there, including nuclear ones.
It is necessary to allocate space for these [wind and solar] stations, even if wind farms can still stand on the seabed. For the rest, you have to buy land, and land in Europe is mostly privately owned.
This will require funding. As we know, wind farms do not always work. And it happened more than once when wind farms stopped in winter.
The sun also does not shine every day in Europe, so there will be no complete replacement. And accordingly, Europe stands at a crossroads.
Khazanov does not rule out that Washington is planning to buy Russia’s nuclear fuel from Rosatom in order to re-export it to Europe. Apparently, the US hopes that Russia would considerably reduce the price.
However, the problem is that European power plants are receiving Russia’s enriched uranium in the form of fuel elements which are specifically designed for Russian-made reactors.
A nuclear fuel element typically consists of a container with uranium dioxide fuel pellets. The problem is that fuel elements made in the USA are completely different from those produced in Russia.
It is not possible to put elements of one design into another design. At best, this will lead to an accident. Europeans could also turn to Kazakhstan in order to buy enriched uranium, the expert continued.
Apart from the fact that the Kazakh uranium is enriched in Russia, it’s highly likely that Astana would jump at the opportunity to capitalize on this situation and sell its nuclear fuel to the EU at top dollar.
At the same time, the G7’s initiative concerning Russia’s nuclear fuel is unlikely to harm the country’s atomic industry, according to the expert. He expects that the demand for atomic energy will grow across the world in the foreseeable future.
Moreover, Russia has a pool of friendly countries that are ready to develop bilateral cooperation in this field, the expert noted, referring, in particular, to China and Turkey.
China generally has plans to build 150 nuclear reactors because their hydro generation is not that strong, although there are two powerful rivers, the Huang He and the Yangtze.
Solar and wind generations do not always work; and they see great prospects in nuclear energy. This decision of the G7 is, of course, unpleasant. But I do not yet see any negative impact on the Russian energy sector in the foreseeable future.
Our nuclear power industry is fully reliant on Russian fuel. And if European nuclear power plants refuse to buy our fuel, we will get more.
Sputnik / ABC Flash Point News 2023.