Germany has heavily backed demands to sanction uranium imports from Russia and other parts of Vladimir Putin’s civilian nuclear industry in retaliation for his invasion of Ukraine, five say EU diplomats at POLITICO.
Such a move could affect the supply of uranium that fuels the bloc’s Russian-built power reactors, as well as new nuclear projects run by Russia’s Paris-based subsidiary Rosatom Western Europe.
Four of the diplomats said sanctioning Russia’s nuclear industry was discussed in a meeting with EU ambassadors and the Commission earlier this week, with Poland and the Baltic countries leading calls for action.
“The German ambassador announced Berlin’s new position on Wednesday, saying not only that they agree with the oil sanctions, but that they actively support a phase-out of oil, rather than a simple cap on oil prices. prices, and a ban on Russian uranium,” said a European diplomat.
The fact that Germany, the EU’s economic powerhouse, is now on board makes the move much more likely. A wide range of MEPs have also called for nuclear to be included in EU sanctions.
“It is important for Germans, Austrians and others that the EU reduces its energy dependence on Russia in all areas. This also includes banning imports of Russian nuclear fuels. For them, it’s a bit of a no-brainer,” said a European diplomat.
The European Commission is working on proposals for a sixth sanctions package against Russia, potentially including measures targeting oil. Details are expected to be discussed with EU countries in the coming days as European governments seek to step up pressure on Putin by cutting off energy export revenues that fund his invasion of Ukraine.
It is not yet clear how soon sanctions on nuclear imports to the EU could be imposed.
But any action against the Russian nuclear industry would not be painless for Europeans. The EU imports almost all of its uranium from outside the bloc. About 20% comes from Russia, making it the EU’s second largest supplier after Niger.
Sanctioning the Paris subsidiary of Rosatom should be a particularly sensitive issue for newly re-elected French President Emmanuel Macron. France has a large nuclear power sector and works closely with Rosatom on several projects through EDF, a partially state-owned company.
“Some countries … are concerned about nuclear security,” said a senior EU diplomat. “You would need certain guarantees. But there are certainly things you can sanction that are not directly related to nuclear cooperation.
The discussion lays bare a political fault line between the governments of Berlin and Paris, the two big players in the bloc. Germany is a staunch opponent of nuclear power and aims to shut down its remaining nuclear power plants by the end of this year.
Berlin is not content to shut down its own reactors but is trying to dissuade other European countries from investing in nuclear power. More recently, Germany criticized Belgium’s decision to delay its elimination plans for a decade.
France, on the other hand, gets more than 70% of its electricity from nuclear power plants and plans to build even more. reactors. Macron said nuclear will play a key role in reducing the country’s emissions, as it is a low-carbon energy source, and in strengthening the EU’s energy independence. He wants to build 14 new reactors by 2050, while continuing to develop renewable energies. The country is also the only EU member to maintain a nuclear weapons program.
However, France does not depend on Russia for its uranium imports, as it obtains its fuel mainly from Kazakhstan and Niger.
French energy giant EDF, which operates the country’s nuclear power plants, said it “closely follows the situation in Ukraine and its consequences on the energy markets. He added that “to ensure continuity and security of supply”, the company has long-term contracts “diversified in terms of origins and suppliers”.
French nuclear fuel supplier Orano said it “has suspended all new shipments of nuclear materials to and from Russia” since late February, and stressed that it has “very limited activities” in Russia, which represent less than 0.1% of its orders.
While Germany has warned that a gas embargo would bring economic ruin, France has been open to sanctioning Russian fossil fuels.
However, the strongest resistance 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 alternative nuclear fuel authorized for Russian supply. While Slovakia, for example, has said it has enough nuclear fuel to last until the end of 2023, a ban on Russian imports could be a problem down the road.
“This is very worrying because we are 100% dependent on deliveries of Russian nuclear fuel from the TVEL company,” said Karol Galek, Slovak State Secretary for Energy at the Finance Ministry.
Discussions have taken place between these five EU countries and the American supplier Westinghouse on the manufacture of an alternative fuel for these Russian reactors, Galek added. “It looks like it could work, should work – but in two years, because there’s no immediate option. So that’s the problem,” he said.
Short-term alternatives would come at a steep price, said Mark Hibbs, Germany-based senior fellow at Carnegie’s nuclear policy program. Rumors of nuclear sanctions – the United States, for example, is also considering action against Rosatom – have already driven up uranium prices.
“We’ve seen uranium sell for cash at almost $60 a pound, so if the Europeans want to replace 20% of their Russian supply with others – Kazakhstan, Canada, Australia, for example – they can do, but it would cost them a premium,” Hibbs said. “The spot uranium they bought for future nuclear fuel in 2017 would have cost about $20 a pound and in 2020 it would have cost about $30 a pound. book.”
Moscow does not make much money exporting nuclear fuel. But targeting broader infrastructure activity, 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 activities here in Europe will be stopped by sanctions, because they have more than 25 different projects in Europe,” Ukrainian Deputy Energy Minister Yaroslav said. Demchenkov.
France could be “more active” on this agenda, Demchenkov added. “It’s a big sum of money.”
Jacopo Barigazzi, Jakob Hanke Vela and Louise Guillot contributed reporting.