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US nuclear companies urge Congress for $billions, as Russia’s nuclear industry profits from both sides of the Ukraine war

U.S. companies collectively sent almost $1 billion last year to Rosatom.

“That’s money that’s going right into the defense complex in Russia,”

“We’re funding both sides of the war.”

The West Needs Russia to Power Its Nuclear Comeback. WSJ 10 May 23

U.S., Europe add reactors but still heavily dependent on Moscow for crucial ingredients to produce fuel

Nuclear power in the West is having a long-awaited revival, with new reactors opening in the U.S. and Europe and fresh momentum toward building more soon.

A gaping hole in the plan: The West doesn’t have enough nuclear fuel—and lacks the capacity to swiftly ramp up production. Even more vexing, the biggest source of critical ingredients is Russia and its state monopoly, Rosatom, which is implicated in supporting the war in Ukraine………….

Nuclear power supplies nearly 20% of U.S. electricity, and roughly 25% of European electricity, but in recent decades has struggled to gain traction in most of the West as a green alternative to fossil fuels, for reasons ranging from cost to waste disposal and an erosion of expertise in building reactors.

Pockets of stiff resistance remain: Germany closed its last reactors in April, in a phaseout that began more than a decade ago………………………….

A recent Gallup poll found that Americans are more supportive of the technology than at any point in the past decade…………………………………..

Westinghouse, a storied pioneer of electric power, has struggled in the nuclear sector and repeatedly changed hands amid market swings and tighter industry regulation after the reactor accidents at Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima.

A group including private-equity firm Brookfield Asset Management bought Westinghouse for almost $8 billion in October, in a move billed as a bet on nuclear power’s resurgence.

Westinghouse said this month that it next plans to launch a line of smaller reactors that could cost as little as $1 billion each.

Despite the industry’s progress, the dependence on Russian enriched uranium for nuclear fuel has proven intractable. 

Nuclear fuel is one of the few Russian energy sources not banned by the West as a result of the war in Ukraine. The reason is rooted in a program from the early 1990s, soon after the Cold War ended, aimed at shrinking the threat of Soviet nuclear warheads falling into the wrong hands.

Under the 1993 deal, the brainchild of a Massachusetts Institute of Technology researcher named Thomas Neff and dubbed Megatons to Megawatts, the U.S. bought 500 metric tons of highly enriched uranium, enough for 20,000 warheads, and had it converted into reactor fuel. 

Arms-control advocates hailed it as a win-win: Moscow got urgently needed cash, Washington reduced its proliferation headache and U.S. utilities got inexpensive fuel. It remains one of the world’s most successful nuclear-disarmament programs.

The deal “did what was promised,” Dr. Neff said in an interview. “We have many fewer nuclear weapons and stuff to make them out of than we did.”

The problem, critics said, was that the deal delivered Russian nuclear fuel so cheaply that rival suppliers struggled to compete. Before long, U.S. and European companies were scaling back and Russia was the world’s biggest supplier of enriched uranium, with nearly half of global capacity.

Before the deal ended in 2013, Russian suppliers, now organized as Rosatom, signed a new contract with the U.S. private sector to provide commercial fuel beyond the government-to-government program. Rosatom still supplies as much as one-fourth of U.S. nuclear fuel.

U.S. companies collectively sent almost $1 billion last year to Rosatom, according to a recent analysis from Darya Dolzikova at the Royal United Services Institute in London.

“That’s money that’s going right into the defense complex in Russia,” said Scott Melbye, executive vice president of uranium miner Uranium Energy and president of the Uranium Producers of America, an industry group. “We’re funding both sides of the war.”

Rosatom was formed by Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2007 from various parts of the country’s nuclear-power industry and is closely controlled by the Kremlin. Its top managers have been deeply involved in running Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear-power plant, Europe’s largest………………….

A proposed new generation of reactors, which proponents and investors including Microsoft founder Bill Gates are touting as less risky and more environmentally friendly than current reactor designs, requires a special type of fuel that is the nuclear equivalent of high-octane gasoline.

The only source of that fuel today is Rosatom.

……………………….. The multinational Urenco owns one of only two uranium-processing facilities in the U.S., in Eunice, N.M., just across the Texas border. The company says it is spending roughly $200 million on new capacity and can invest much more if Russian uranium is sanctioned.

The catch: It wants government guarantees on quantities allowed in the market.

Urenco’s fear, said Kirk Schnoebelen, head of U.S. sales, is that in several years low-price Russian enriched uranium might swamp world markets, tanking prices……….

But because of the Megatons deal, “the business case for that project was utterly destroyed,” Today that history “absolutely” informs the U.S. nuclear industry’s thinking and makes corporate boards reluctant to invest the necessary billions…..

Westinghouse’s Mr. Fragman said the legislation is long overdue………


May 11, 2023 - Posted by | politics, Uranium, USA

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