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US Senate passes bill banning Russian uranium imports

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By Imelda Cotton - 
USA Russia uranium ban

The US Senate has given the green light to legislation banning the import of Russian uranium as part of continued efforts to disrupt the war against Ukraine.

The Senate passed the bill by unanimous consent after the House of Representatives approved it in December.

It will now advance to the White House for signing by President Joe Biden before it can become law.

Mr Biden has previously expressed support for restrictions on Russian fuel products and is expected to sign the bill.

The US introduced sweeping sanctions and restrictions on the import of Russian products (including fossil fuels) after the full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022 but has yet to add uranium to the list.

Long-term ban

Known as the Prohibiting Russian Uranium Imports Act, the bill proposes to phase out and eventually ban the import of enriched uranium from Russia by 2028.

It also contains waivers allowing the import of low-enriched uranium should the US energy secretary determine there is no alternative source available for operation of a domestic nuclear reactor or nuclear energy company, or if imports are in the national interest.

The ban will go into effect 90 days after its enactment and is set to expire at the end of 2040.

The bill is expected to ramp up pressure on Moscow’s war economy more than two years after President Vladimir Putin launched his Ukraine attack.

Domestic industry

The new bill will free up $4.2 billion passed in previous US legislation to build out the domestic uranium processing industry.

It will enable the US to step up local production and enrichment of uranium to reduce dependence on imports.

One senator noted that Wyoming was a top candidate for future uranium supplies for US nuclear reactors.

“Wyoming has the uranium to replace Russian imports and we are ready to use it,” he said.

“Our bipartisan legislation will help de-fund Russia’s war machine, revive American uranium production and jumpstart investments in America’s nuclear fuel supply chain.”

‘Unconscionable move’

Another senator added that it would be an “unconscionable move” for the US to contribute to Russia’s attack on Ukraine.

“[We cannot] contribute to Putin’s ability to finance his unlawful war against Ukraine through our reliance on Russia for the uranium we need to power our nuclear reactors,” he said.

“America’s dangerous reliance on Russian-enriched uranium must come to an end — our national security depends on it.”

Uranium imports

Research by the US Energy Information Administration shows that US nuclear power plants imported around 12% of their uranium from Russia in 2022, compared to 27% from Canada and 25% from Kazakhstan.

The US was the source of about 5% of uranium used domestically that year.

Last year, Russia provided almost 25% of the enriched uranium used to fuel 94 nuclear plants in the US, making it the number one foreign supplier to the nation.

Imports provide Russia with an estimated $1.54b a year.

Reactor fuel

Russia is the world’s only commercial source of highly-enriched reactor fuel known as HALEU (high-assay low-enriched uranium) which is needed for a new breed of advanced nuclear reactors currently under development.

The only facility that enriches uranium and provides HALEU for the US market is the American Centrifuge Company, owned by Ohio-based Centrus Energy Corp.

Centrus recently delivered its maiden batch of HALEU fuel to the US Department of Energy, finalising the first phase of a domestic manufacturing demonstration process.