According to two sources familiar with the matter at hand, the U.S. nuclear power industry is lobbying the White House to continue the import of uranium from Russia despite sanctions saying cheap supplies of the fuel is key to keeping US electricity prices low.
The United States relies on Russia and its allies Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan for nearly 50% of its uranium requirements for its nuclear plants. In 2020, it imported 10.3 million kilograms (22.8 million pounds) of Uranium from the trio in order to produce roughly 20% of U.S. electricity supply, according to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration and the World Nuclear Association.
Western sanctions imposed on Russia, in the last two weeks, exempt the sales of Russian uranium along with related financial transactions.
According to sources, the National Energy Institute (NEI), a trade group of U.S. nuclear power generation companies which includes Duke Energy Corp and Exelon Corp, is lobbying the White House to keep the exemption on uranium imports from Russia.
The NEI is lobbying to ensure that uranium is not ensnared in any Western sanctions on Russia in any future energy-related punitive move, especially after intensifying calls to sanction Russian crude oil sales, said sources.
“The (U.S. nuclear power) industry is just addicted to cheap Russian uranium,” said one of the sources on the condition of anonymity, citing sensitivity of the situation.
Duke and Exelon, two of the largest U.S. utilities, could not immediately be reached for comment.
Washington-based NEI said that it supports a diversity of uranium supply, including the development of U.S. facilities to produce and process the fuel.
“While Russia is a significant global supplier of commercial nuclear fuel, U.S. utilities contract with a worldwide network of companies and countries for their fuel requirements to mitigate the risks of potential disruption,” said Nima Ashkeboussi, NEI’s senior director of fuel and radiation safety.
The Biden administration aims to keep US energy costs low.
“We are listening to all inquiries from industry and will continue to do so as we take measures to hold Russia accountable,” said an official from the White House.
Currently, the United States does not have any uranium production or processing plants, although several companies have shown interest in resuming domestic production if they can sign long-term supply contracts with nuclear power producers.
Texas and Wyoming have large uranium reserves.
Although Canada and Australia have large uranium reserves and although Europe has ample processing capability, producers at Russia and its allies have the most cost effective prices.
The U.S. nuclear power industry’s use of Russian uranium is likely to spark further questions about where and how the United States procures the materials needed to supply high-tech and renewable-energy products, a dependency that President Joe Biden singled out last week as a national security threat.
In 2020, former U.S. President Donald Trump had proposed spending $150 million to create a strategic uranium reserve, the Biden administration has expressed support to the idea.