Fri. Sep 22nd, 2023

Every year, American nuclear companies spend $1 billion to buy enriched uranium from Russia’s state-owned Rosatom. A situation of dependence that is particularly troublesome in the context of the war in Ukraine and the sanctions against Moscow, analyzes “The New York Times”.

In the concrete floor of this mega-plant in the Appalachian valley of Piketon, Ohio, thousands of empty cylindrical holes are laid out. Only sixteen of them contain the 9-meter-long centrifuges in which uranium is enriched to make fuel for nuclear power plants. And these centrifuges are now shut down.

If each of these caverns contained a working centrifuge, the site alone could help the USA out of a difficult situation, which is weighing on both its energy transition and the conflict in Ukraine.

Unavowable dependence on Moscow
At present, American companies pay around $1 billion a year to Rosatom, Russia’s state-owned nuclear company, to procure the fuel with which the United States produces more than half of its carbon-free electricity.

Among the few remaining flows of money from the US to Russia, this is one of the most important, and it continues despite sustained efforts by Washington’s allies to sever their economic ties with Moscow.

Payment for enriched uranium is made through subsidiaries of Rosatom, a state-owned company closely linked to the Russian military apparatus.

The USA is set to become more dependent on nuclear power, as it aims to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels. But no US-owned company is enriching uranium.

At one time, the U.S. was number one in this field, but various historical factors, including an agreement between Moscow and Washington to purchase enriched uranium in order to support Russian civil nuclear power in the wake of the collapse of the USSR, enabled Russia to gain control of half the world market. And the Americans have completely ceased their uranium enrichment activities.

As part of the sanctions imposed since the invasion of Ukraine, the United States and Europe have essentially stopped buying fossil fuels from the Russians. But building a new supply chain for enriched uranium will take years and require public investment far beyond what is currently available. As demonstrated by the huge Centrus Energy power plant in Piketon, which remains almost completely empty more than a year after the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

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