The Elements of Innovation Discovered

Russian import ban creates nuclear shift

Metal Tech News - May 15, 2024

New legislation heralds anticipated domestic nuclear energy transformation.

With the signing into law of bipartisan legislation that effectively bans the import of uranium products from Russia, the Biden administration has signaled a monumental shift for America's civil nuclear energy sector.

Signed by President Biden on May 14, the bipartisan Prohibiting Russian Uranium Imports Act has finally been enacted into law.

"This bill limits the importation of uranium from Russia. Specifically, it bans unirradiated low-enriched uranium (i.e., uranium that has not been in a reactor) that is produced in Russia or by a Russian entity from being imported into the United States. The bill also prohibits the importation of unirradiated low-enriched uranium that has been swapped for the banned uranium or otherwise obtained in a manner designed to circumvent the ban's restrictions. However, the Department of Energy (DOE) may waive this ban if DOE determines that (1) no alternative viable source of low-enriched uranium is available to sustain the continued operation of a nuclear reactor or a U.S. nuclear energy company, or (2) importation of the uranium is in the national interest. Any waiver issued must terminate by January 1, 2028. The ban terminates on December 31, 2040." –

Going into effect Aug. 11, 90 days after being signed, the ban aims to promote domestic production of advanced nuclear fuel.

"Our nation's clean energy future will not rely on Russian imports," said Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm. "We are making investments to build out a secure nuclear fuel supply chain here in the United States."

Recognizing that in the near term, implementing this ban could disrupt the operations of nuclear reactors, the law authorizes the Secretary of Energy, in consultation with the Secretary of State and Secretary of Commerce, to waive the prohibition and permit the import of Russian uranium if an applicant can show that it has no alternative viable source of fuel or that such imports align with national interests.

Clock is now ticking

Given the deficit the country will face with a 90-day clock ticking down until the U.S. loses roughly 35% of its nuclear imports, it appears that longer-term plans have been made to adjust accordingly.

According to the DOE Office of Nuclear Energy, "We're restarting old reactors, building new ones, and working to deploy advanced reactors to help us meet our clean energy goals."

DOE estimates that U.S. utilities have roughly three years of low-enriched uranium (LEU) available through existing inventory or pre-existing contracts.

While a waiver system has been established to buffer potential disruption, the federal agency says that it is taking aggressive steps to establish a secure and reliable uranium supply market.

Bolstered by a more than $50 billion spending bill passed in March for DOE to strategically devote toward various research, development, construction, and other such activities aimed at building clean, affordable, and secure sources of energy that will help address the climate crisis, $2.72 billion of that money was allocated to building out the country's nuclear fuel supply chain.

Centrus Energy Corp.

Row of centrifuges built by Centrus Energy Corp., where the first production of American-made high-assay low-enriched uranium is being produced in Piketon, Ohio.

Planned strategy

Essentially the starting gun for devising a larger strategy to build out advanced nuclear fuel production capabilities domestically, the ban has kicked billions in funding into effect and has lit a fire under the ongoing HALEU (high-assay low-enriched uranium) Availability Program.

Since the advent of the Energy Act of 2020, DOE has directed the establishment of the program to ensure access to HALEU for civilian domestic research, development, demonstration, and commercial use.

Until recently, HALEU was only available through Russian channels. Representing a significant advancement in nuclear fuel technology, the difference to LEU is the concentration of the uranium isotope 235.

Unlike conventional LEU, which typically contains 3-5% U-235, HALEU boasts a substantially higher concentration, at or above 20%. This elevated purity not only enhances energy output but also minimizes waste production, making it ideal for specialized reactor applications.

Already seeing production at the Piketon demonstration project in Ohio, led by Centrus Energy Corp. and the only facility currently in the U.S. licensed to enrich uranium up to HALEU levels, 19.75%, the agency hopes to see production increase to roughly 900 kilograms.

Additionally, DOE hopes to see new contracts signed for HALEU enrichment and deconversion services.

Internationally, DOE is collaborating with strategic partners in the UK, Canada, France, and Japan – collectively dubbed the Sapporo 5 – to support the stable supply of fuels for existing operating reactors and to enable the deployment of fuels for future advanced reactors.

To date, this partnership has mobilized more than $4.2 billion in government-led investments to support the development of a secure, reliable nuclear energy supply chain.

While no mention of raw uranium to be converted into HALEU was mentioned, it is hoped that the U.S. government has planned accordingly.

Energy Fuels, the largest producer of uranium in the U.S., says it is poised to step up domestic production of uranium at its White Mesa Mill in Utah.

"The U.S. should not rely on bad international actors to supply the fuel that powers our homes and workplaces with carbon-free nuclear energy," said Energy Fuels President and CEO Mark Chalmers. "As the country's leading producer of uranium, we are ready to safely and responsibly produce the uranium needed for nuclear energy – one of the best tools to reduce carbon emissions."

With a shut-off date for Russian uranium in place, the U.S. will become more reliant on domestic producers like Energy Fuels to help supply the fuel for the nuclear reactors that deliver roughly 20% of America's energy.


Reader Comments(0)