Ditching Russian Nuclear Fuel Is Easier Said Than Done
Russia's dominance in the global nuclear fuel market presents another massive challenge for Washington, especially the liberal hawks in the Biden administration, who are trying to wean Western countries off Russian energy supplies.
Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm said President Biden is redoubling efforts to break the US reliance on Russian nuclear fuel, indicating domestic uranium-enrichment capacity could be increased with upcoming key legislation.
"We are going to get Congressional support in a bipartisan way for us to make our own fuel cycle supply chain independent, certainly of Russia," Granholm said in an interview at the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, Bloomberg quoted.
"We've got to make this happen for our own independence and national security," she continued.
Bringing on new capacity could take years. For instance, uranium extracted from mines to refine into fuel for nuclear reactors takes three to five years.
Russia controls about two-fifths of the global enrichment services market and supplies almost a quarter of the fuel for the US' 93 operational nuclear reactors. This is another chokepoint the US is trying to avoid.
Earlier this year, Washington banned imports of Russian fossil fuel products, though uranium wasn't part of the sanctions.
"We should not be sending any money to Russia for any American energy or for any other reason," Granholm said in May.
The Biden administration is working toward expanding a uranium supply chain to wean itself off Russian supplies though top congressional Democrats recently balked at Biden's $1.5 billion request in an upcoming budget bill to support domestic uranium enrichment programs.
"We need to signal that the US is committed to its own fuel supply as well as the conversion and enrichment components of the supply chain.
"This investment in our own supply chain is a critical piece of that," Granholm said in Vienna.
The American nuclear industry could soon see a resurgence since the Three Mile Island facility accident in 1979 sent it into a tailspin for decades if Granholm and the Biden administration can get funding.
She said the government would support the demand side rather than taking direct ownership stakes in facilities.
"We would be using the market to make sure this capability gets out," she added. "We would contract with facilities. The goal is to be independent as soon as possible."
Several nuclear fuel supply chain companies, including Honeywell International Inc., General Atomics, and Centrus Energy Corp., could benefit from atomic independence from Russia.
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