Europe’s constricted cylinders of Russian-built nuclear power reactors remind us of Russia’s vital role in energy supply.
After the Ukraine war, Europe quickly cut off Russian oil and gas. Breaking Russia’s nuclear dependency is harder.
Russia’s Rosatom nuclear power corporation controls the global nuclear supply chain. In 2021, it will be Europe’s third-largest uranium supplier, supplying 20%. Despite Kyiv’s urging, Rosatom sanctions have garnered little support due to a lack of alternatives.
Countries with Russian reactors depend heavily on them. Russia developed 18 reactors in five EU nations. Two more are under development in Hungary and Slovakia, reinforcing Rosatom cooperation in the long term.
Nuclear power plant operators had little choice for years. Rosatom, through its subsidiary TVEL, was the only manufacturer of manufactured fuel assemblies, the final stage in processing uranium into nuclear fuel rods that power reactors.
The Czech Republic’s energy company has contracts with Pennsylvania’s Westinghouse Electric Company and France’s Framatome to supply fuel assemblies for its Temelin plant.
Fennovoima, a Finnish energy business, ended a controversial nuclear reactor project with Rosatom. After existing contracts expire, Fortum has recruited Westinghouse to design, license, and deliver a new fuel type for its Loviisa, Finland, facility.
“We want to diversify the supply chain,” said Fortum executive vice president Simon-Erik Ollus.
Bulgaria renewed its Westinghouse reactor fuel supply contract for 10 years. This Thursday, it authorized the American corporation to develop new nuclear reactor units. Poland will build its first nuclear power station with three Westinghouse reactors.
Westinghouse’s nuclear fuel unit head, Tarik Choho, said the Ukraine war expedited Europe’s quest for new suppliers. “Hungary wants diversification.”
S&P Commodity Insights senior managing editor for nuclear energy William Freebairn called Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year “a sea change.”
“Within days of the invasion, just about every country that operated a Russian reactor started hunting for other supplies,” he said.
After Russia invaded Crimea and the eastern Donbas in 2014, Ukraine launched major steps to reduce Russian nuclear dominance. Ukraine expanded its fuel contract with Westinghouse, whose 15 Soviet-era reactors produced half the country’s electricity.
The International Energy Agency says it took five years to create and deliver the first fuel assembly.
Ukraine “blazed a commercial route,” Mr. Freebairn added. Ukraine secured another Westinghouse contract in June to provide all its nuclear fuel. The business will build nine power plants and a national engineering center.
Still, a global nuclear disengagement from Russia would be difficult. Nuclear supply chains are complicated. Creating a new one would cost money and take years.
Rosatom’s success as a corporate and political tool is exceptional. Its rise is owing to a “one-stop nuclear shop” that can provide countries with materials, training, support, maintenance, disposal of nuclear waste, decommissioning, and, most importantly, attractive financing.
Nuclear reactor arrangements require long-term marriages due to their 20–40-year lifespans.
Russia controls nuclear fuel. It controls 38% of the world’s uranium conversion and 46% of its enrichment capacity—essential steps in fuel production.
“That’s equal to all of OPEC put together in terms of market share and power,” said Columbia University visiting fellow Paul Dabbar.
Nuclear fuel prices have climbed over the past year, bringing more than $1 billion into Russia’s coffers.
A recent nonproliferation pact allows the US nuclear power industry to import 20% of its enriched uranium from Russia. France imports 15%. Framatome, controlled by EDF, inked a partnership deal with Rosatom in December 2021, two months before Russia invaded. Framatome rejected the comment.
Even with Europe’s new fuel deals with non-Russian sources, supplies won’t start for at least a year, and often for many years.
Nuclear power provides 25% of the EU’s electricity. Nuclear energy is predicted to play a larger part in the future fuel mix due to climate change.
Analysts say Russia’s nuclear supply status is irrevocably damaged even without sanctions.
Last year, one of the arguments against keeping Germany’s two nuclear power plants running due to the conflict was their use of Russian-enriched uranium for fuel rods. The last two reactors will shut down next month.
In November, Poland’s Council of Ministers authorized Westinghouse’s contract to build its first nuclear power station, citing “the need for permanent independence from energy suppliers and carriers from Russia.”
Westinghouse’s Mr. Choho believed the corporation could eventually take 50–75% of Europe’s nuclear market from Rosatom. Westinghouse has also partnered with Spanish energy business Enusa to make fuel for Russian reactors.
. China, India, Iran, Armenia, and Belarus have Russian reactors. The International Energy Agency said Rosatom has a memorandum of understanding with 13 countries and is building Turkey’s first nuclear power plant.