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Putin’s nuclear grip on Europe could spark another energy crisis, expert warns

Russian President Vladimir Putin controls about 42 percent of the world’s nuclear fuel, and may be able to send electricity prices soaring if he withholds supplies. By JACOB PAUL, Nov 20, 2022, As global gas prices have been sent to record highs over the last year due to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine and his supply cuts to Europe, nations across the continent have been scrambling to wean themselves off Russian fossil fuels to weaken Moscow’s tight grip on the energy market. But an expert has told that countries which have hedged bets on nuclear power as a means of gaining energy independence may not actually be able to escape Putin’s clutches as the Kremlin has dominance over nuclear fuel supplies, which could potentially trigger another price crisis. 

While policymakers across Europe have argued that nuclear power stations can boost homegrown supplies of energy, they have failed to mention these plants require uranium to fuel them. 

This is the crux of the issue as Russia, and Russia-controlled Kazakhstan currently supplies 42 percent of all uranium for all reactors worldwide. And when compared with the gas crisis, the statistics look eerily similar.

The EU for instance, got around 40 percent of its gas from Russia before Putin sent his troops into Ukraine. And when he withheld supplies to Europe, prices in Britain shot up too, despite the UK only getting four percent of its gas from Russia. This is due to the integrated nature of the gas market. 

With the EU relying on Russia for 20 percent of its uranium needed to fuel supplies if Russia decided to curtail uranium deliveries to the bloc, it may spark the same problem and trigger another energy crisis.

Prof Paul Dorfman, an Associate Fellow from the Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU) at the University of Sussex told “The argument goes that nuclear provides a security of supply. In other words, ‘you don’t need to worry about Putin’s gas or the Middle East’s oil’. But this point of view is hugely problematic. 

“There is no question that the whole business about the Russian invasion of Ukraine has turned the nuclear industry on its head. This whole idea of security of supply, that nuclear won’t leave us dependent on foreign problems is false. 

“Putin, Russia and Russia-controlled Kazakhstan supply 42 percent of all uranium of all reactors worldwide. 20 percent for the EU, 14 percent of the US and nearly 30 percent of their enrichment services.

“The UK is different. We get our uranium from Australia and Canada and we don’t rely on Russia so we are ok.”

However, while nuclear fuel may not run short in the event of a supply cut from Russia, Prof Dorfman warned, it could send the cost of electricity in Britain soaring too. 

Asked if the nuclear market was similar to the gas market in this regard, Prof Dorfman told “In my view, it certainly would have a significant impact on UK electricity prices because we live in a market world. Absolutely, yes.”

This could be a concern for the UK, given that Britain is planning to dramatically expand its number of nuclear power plants, a desire unveiled in the April energy strategy under former Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

It included the plan to set up new government body, Great British Nuclear, and a £120milion Future Nuclear Enabling Fund in a bid to build eight new reactors across the UK. Mr Johnson said: “We’re setting out bold plans to scale up and accelerate affordable, clean and secure energy made in Britain, for Britain – from new nuclear to offshore wind – in the decade ahead.

“This will reduce our dependence on power sources exposed to volatile international prices we cannot control, so we can enjoy greater energy self-sufficiency with cheaper bills.”

While it is recognised that renewable energies like wind and solar power are cheaper than other sources like oil and gas, Mr Johnson appeared to fail to take into account Putin’s grip on the global nuclear market and the prospect of sending electricity bills soaring in the UK. 


November 20, 2022 - Posted by | politics international, Russia, Uranium

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