Germany has backed demands sanction Uranium imports from Russia and other parts of Vladimir Putin’s civilian nuclear industry in retaliation for his invasion of Ukraine, five EU diplomats told POLITICO.
Such a move could affect supplies of uranium, which fuel the block’s Russian-built power reactors, as well as new nuclear projects managed by Russia’s Paris-based subsidiary Rosatom Western Europe.
Four of the diplomats said sanctioning Russia’s nuclear industry was discussed at a meeting with EU ambassadors and the Commission earlier this week, with Poland and the Baltic countries leading the calls for action.
“The German ambassador announced Berlin’s new position on Wednesday, saying that they not only agree with oil sanctions, but actively support an oil phase-out and not just a price cap and ban on Russian uranium,” an EU diplomat said.
The fact that Germany, the economic powerhouse of the EU, is now also on board makes this step much more likely. A wide range of MEPs have done so as well asked for the inclusion of nuclear energy in EU sanctions.
“It is important for Germans, Austrians and others that the EU reduces its energy dependency on Russia across the board. This also includes the import ban on Russian nuclear fuel. For them, it’s child’s play,” said an EU diplomat.
The European Commission is working on proposals for a sixth set of sanctions against Russia, including potential anti-oil measures. Details are expected to be discussed with EU countries in the coming days as European governments seek to increase pressure on Putin by cutting energy export revenues that fund his invasion of Ukraine.
It is not yet clear when sanctions against nuclear imports into the EU could be imposed.
But any move against Russia’s nuclear industry would not be painless for Europeans. The EU imports almost all of its uranium from outside the bloc. About 20 percent comes from Russia, making it the second largest supplier to the EU after Niger.
Sanctions against Rosatom’s Paris-based subsidiary are likely to be a particularly sensitive issue for newly re-elected French President Emmanuel Macron. France has a large nuclear energy sector and works closely with Rosatom on several projects through the partially state-owned EDF.
“Some countries … Concerned about nuclear safety,” said a senior EU diplomat. “You need certain protective measures. But there are certainly things that can be sanctioned that are not directly related to nuclear cooperation.”
German Franc splits
The discussion reveals a political fault line between the governments in Berlin and Paris, the two big players within the bloc. Germany is a bitter opponent of nuclear power and aims to shut down its remaining nuclear power plants by the end of this year.
Berlin is not satisfied with shutting down its own reactors, but has tried prevent other European countries from doing so from investing in nuclear energy. Most recently Germany criticized Belgium’s decision to delay its exit plans by a decade.
France, on the other hand, gets more than 70 percent of its electricity from nuclear power plants and plans to build even more reactors. Macron has called Nuclear power will play a key role in reducing the country’s emissions as it is a low-carbon energy source and boosting the EU’s energy independence. He wants to build 14 new reactors by 2050 while continuing to expand renewables. The country is also the only EU member to have a nuclear weapons program.
But France does not rely on Russia for its uranium imports, as it gets most of its fuel from Kazakhstan and Niger.
This was announced by the French energy giant EDF, which operates the country’s nuclear power plants “is closely monitoring the situation in Ukraine and its impact on energy markets.” It added that the company “to ensure continuity and security of supply” has long-term contracts “that are diversified in terms of origin and suppliers.”
French nuclear fuel supplier Orano said it had “suspended all new shipments of nuclear materials to and from Russia” since late February, noting that it had “very limited operations” in Russia, accounting for less than 0.1 percent of its own makes orders.
While Germany has warned that a gas embargo would spell economic ruin, France has been open about sanctioning Russian fossil fuels.
However, the strongest opposition may not come from France but from Eastern Europe.
For Russian-made nuclear reactors in the Czech Republic, Hungary, Finland, Bulgaria, Romania and Slovakia, there is no approved nuclear fuel alternative to Russian supplies. For example, while Slovakia has said it will have enough nuclear fuel by the end of 2023, an import ban for Russia could pose a problem later.
“This is very worrying as we are 100 percent dependent on Russian nuclear fuel supplies from the TVEL company,” said Karol Galek, Slovak State Secretary for Energy at the Ministry of Finance.
There have been talks between these five EU countries and the American supplier Westinghouse about producing a substitute fuel for these Russian reactors, Galek added. “It seems it could work, should work – but in two years time because there is no immediate option. So that’s the problem,” he said.
Short-term alternatives would come at a heavy price, said Mark Hibbs, a Germany-based senior fellow at Carnegie’s nuclear policy program. Rumors about nuclear sanctions – the USA for example has also considered measures against Rosatom – have already pushed up uranium prices.
“We found that uranium is selling on the spot for almost $60 a pound. So if the Europeans want to replace the 20 percent of their Russian supply with others — say, Kazakhstan, Canada, Australia — they can do that, but it would cost them a premium,” Hibbs said Buying nuclear fuel would have cost about $20 a pound and in 2020 it would have cost about $30 a pound.”
Moscow does not make much money from exporting nuclear fuel. But targeting the larger infrastructure deal, which includes building reactors in the EU, would deal a major financial blow to the Kremlin’s war machine.
“We hope that Rosatom will be under sanctions and we hope that Rosatom’s operations here in Europe will be stopped with sanctions as they have more than 25 different projects in Europe,” said Deputy Energy Minister of Ukraine Yaroslav Demchenkov.
France could be “more active” on this agenda, Demchenkov added. “It’s a huge amount of money.”
Jacopo Barigazzi, Jakob Hanke Vela and Louise Guillot contributed to the reporting.
https://www.politico.eu/article/russia-nuclear-power-uranium-plants-europe-imports-germany-sanctions-ukraine-war/?utm_source=RSS_Feed&utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=RSS_Syndication Russia threatens sanctions on nuclear industry as Germany backs uranium ban - POLITICO