Russia, whose war in Ukraine has spurred countries across the world to cut off Russian oil and natural gas, has large investments in nuclear energy—and if the West wants energy independence, it will need to follow suit, according to CNBC.
Dominant player: Of the 439 nuclear reactors in operation in 2021, 38 were Russian, an additional 42 used Russian technology and 15 others under construction were being built with Russian tech, according to a new report from Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy.
- “Russia owned 40% of the total uranium conversion infrastructure in the world in 2020, and 46% of the total uranium enrichment capacity in the world in 2018, according to the report.”
How to avoid Russian tech: “If a country has not yet constructed nuclear reactors, then they can, from the beginning, decide not to contract with Russia. The U.S., France, Korea and China are ‘viable’ supplier options, according to the paper.”
- Countries that already have Russian nuclear reactor models can turn to the Pennsylvania-based nuclear firm Westinghouse for repairs and supplies, the paper said.
Expansion needed: Russia is also the dominant player in uranium conversion and enrichment, which is where the U.S. and its allies must focus their efforts.
- “[U]ranium conversion and enrichment capabilities exist in Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the United States,” but more capacity will likely need to be added.
The HALEU challenge: The U.S. must also be prepared to create facilities that mine, convert and enrich high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU), which is fuel for advanced reactors.
- “In the United States, there is only one uranium conversion facility — it’s in Metropolis, Illinois—and it has been on standby since November 2017.”
- Though the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission last year approved the production of HALEU at Centrus Energy’s Piketon, Ohio, facilities, there is currently no HALEU being produced in the U.S.
The final say: The NAM has long been focused and active on the HALEU issue. In late 2021, it urged the Energy Department to “devote a robust level of resources” to HALEU enrichment.