Are we slaves to Russian uranium processing?

I think that investors in an economy to be based on decarbonized energy sources have very limited choices. The best man-made addition to nature’s hydroelectric and geothermal processes is nuclear. Quite a few who were skeptical are now seeing how to keep the lights on without burning fossil fuels by using the heat generated by controlled nuclear fission of uranium-235.

Japan has pulled back from its Fukushima tsunami-caused national shut down of its extensive civilian nuclear power fleet of reactors, and ordered the restart of its nuclear electric industry, France, the most nuclearized electricity generating nation in the world, has ordered 14 new reactors. Germany has postponed its shutdown of its nuclear-electric capacity, and the USA, with the world’s largest fleet of civilian power reactors (96 operational), has licensed the test construction of small “modular” reactors (SMRs), which could built quickly and cost far less than the large scale reactors currently in use.

So, what’s the problem? We’ve seen the light and are going to continue to use and even expand the use of carbon-free uranium fueled nuclear electric generators, right?

The problems are two-fold. First, the largest users of nuclear electric generation – the USA, China, and France – do not have, and cannot have, enough domestically mined uranium production in their respective countries to supply even a small fraction of their needs. Second, 60% (!) of the capability and capacity to enrich natural uranium into reactor fuel (zirconium coated pellets of enriched uranium 235) is located in Russia and China, with most of that today (nearly 50% of the world’s total capacity) being in Russia.

The United States has one operational plant that can produce less than a third of its annual domestic needs, and that plant is managed by its UK-Netherlands-Germany owners. China’s China Nuclear Corporation is, of course, working to double its capacity to meet the needs of China’s rapidly growing civilian nuclear reactor fleet, so that by 2030 China plans to have nearly one-third of global capacity, which when combined with Russia’s capacity that year will give the two of them fully two-thirds of 2030’s global capacity to enrich uranium for civilian power reactors.

The USA has no plans to develop or find sufficient enrichment capacity to become domestically self-sufficient by 2030 or any other future date.

And, to compound the problem, the USA today produces just a few percent of its mined uranium demand!

The world’s largest fleet of civilian nuclear power reactors is totally dependent on the kindness of strangers for its continued operation and survival. The USA gets 20% of our national needs for fuel for (nuclear) electricity generation from malevolent dictatorships (Russia, China) and the rest from an energy-starved world that is becoming less interested in saving the world from climate change daily. Neither is likely to have America’s domestic needs at the top of their lists.

As for the mined uranium, Kazakhstan, Canada, and Australia are the world’s principal sources.

It is urgent that the USA mine, refine, and enrich all of the uranium it can from domestic sources as soon as possible.

A prominent American-based uranium miner/refiner told me last week in regard to the above, “Once the US government dropped uranium as a national priority as it once was, things went to hell in a hand basket. Give me $5 billion and 10 years and this can change.”

Perhaps that sum can be obtained from the US Defense Departments’ programs to teach social justice issues like proper pronoun usage to our soldiers, sailors, and airmen.

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2 responses

  1. Tracy Weslosky Avatar
    Tracy Weslosky

    Morning Jack.

    Correct me if I am wrong, but the USA only secures 5% of its national supply of uranium from the USA. As for the real stats on how much we rely on Russia for the global supply of uranium, I have seen ‘flexible’ translations. We need to send a researcher in for a proper update on Mergers and Acquisitions and a better understanding of ARMZ Uranium Holding Co., which is the Mining Division of Rosatom State Atomic Energy Corporation.

    Here are some facts pulled from Wikipedia:
    “Atomredmetzoloto, JSC, (ARMZ Uranium Holding Co.), the Mining Division of Rosatom State Atomic Energy Corporation, is a Russian uranium producer internally ranked sixth in the world in terms of uranium production and second in terms of in-situ uranium reserves.”

    And Rosatom?

    “Rosatom, (Russian: Росатом, IPA: [rɐsˈatəm]) also known as Rosatom State Nuclear Energy Corporation, the State Atomic Energy Corporation Rosatom or Rosatom State Corporation, is a Russian state corporation headquartered in Moscow that specializes in nuclear energy, nuclear non-energy goods and high-tech products. Established in 2007, the organization comprises more than 350 enterprises, including scientific research organizations, the nuclear weapons complex, and the world’s only nuclear icebreaker fleet.

    The state corporation is one of the largest in the world’s nuclear energy industry. The organization ranks first as the largest electricity generating company in Russia, producing 215.746 TWh of electricity, 20.28% of the country’s total electricity production. The corporation also ranks first in the overseas NPP construction, responsible for 76% of global nuclear technology exports: 35 nuclear power plant units, at different stages of development, in 12 countries, as of December 2020. Rosatom also manufactures equipment and produces isotopes for nuclear medicine, carries out research, material studies; it also produces supercomputers and software as well as different nuclear and non-nuclear innovative products. Rosatom’s strategy is to further develop renewable energy and wind power. Two units are being built in Russia at Kursk-2 NPP with plans announced for 2 more units at Kola NPP.[6] Rosatom with its 38% world market share, in 2019, takes the lead in global uranium enrichment services (36%) and covers 16% of the global nuclear fuel market….

    As of February 2021, the total portfolio orders of Rosatom reached $250 billion. According to the 2020 corporate report, its 10-year foreign order portfolio stood at $138.3 billion, while revenue reached $7.5 billion. The 10-year order portfolio for new products stood at ₽1,602.1 billion while revenue reached ₽261.1 billion.”

    Now flip to Canada:

    “In late 2010, Atomredmetzoloto acquired 51.4% of Uranium One (U1), a Canadian uranium mining company.//In June 2011, it closed a transaction worth USD 983 million to purchase a 100% stake in Mantra Resources Limited, thus ensuring participation in the uranium development projects in Tanzania (including the Mkuju River area with over 39,000 tons of uranium reserves). In January 2013, ARMZ agreed with the U1 management to increase its stake in Uranium One up to 100%.

    In 2013, a spin-off of ARMZ’s overseas assets was carried out to pass them under the management of Uranium One Holding, whereby ARMZ Uranium Holding Co. consolidated the uranium mining assets in Russia.”

    In my experience, the one who owns the supply – owns control. We (USA/Canada for instance) have supply, but as per the last example – similar to the impact of the Chinese on our rare earths supply, they have — and own, therefore they possess the control.

  2. Jack Lifton Avatar
    Jack Lifton

    I think the only point you made with which I disagree is the amount of the domestic supply of uranium produced in the USA. I think it is only 1 or 2%, not 5. The issue is and has been for many years, price. Until now the world uranium price was too low to justify domestic American mining. The US Congress recently decided to fund a national uranium stockpile again, and this will help the one or two existing domestic uranium miners to survive. However, the concurrent need is to re-establish the nuclear fuel enrichment and to establish a nuclear fuel reprocessing industry. These are multi-billion-dollar ventures with long development times. So far, it isn’t happening here in the USA.

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