The Biden administration is considering imposing sanctions on Russia’s state-owned atomic energy company, Rosatom Corp., a major supplier of fuel and technology to power plants around the world, according to people familiar with the matter.
No final decision has been made and the White House is consulting with the nuclear power industry about the potential impact, said the people, who were granted anonymity to discuss private deliberations.
Rosatom is a delicate target because the company and its subsidiaries account for about 35% of global uranium enrichment and has agreements to ship the nuclear fuel to countries across Europe. Any punishment would also have to exempt the work Rosatom does with Iran under the terms of the deal limiting the country’s nuclear program, which Biden is seeking to revive.
The Global Uranium X ETF jumped on the news, rising as much as 3.7% to a session high. Cameco Corporation was up 5.5% in Toronto and uranium explorer Denison Mines Corp. rose 4.4%, Energy Fuels Inc. rose 4.6% and NexGen Energy Ltd. increased 3.3%. In the U.S., Uranium Energy Corporation shares rose 0.7%. The NorthShore Global Uranium Mining EFT gained as much as 6%.
It’s unclear what the sanctions would mean for American nuclear plants and importers of fuel. Russia accounted for 16.5% of the uranium imported into the U.S. in 2020 and 23% of the enriched uranium needed to power the fleet of U.S. commercial nuclear reactors. The reactors typically need to refuel every 18 to 24 months, and utilities typically buy fuel years in advance and maintain significant inventories.
“There is time to deal with it,” said Seth Grae, the chief executive officer of the nuclear fuel technology development company Lightbridge Corp. “As long as the sanctions go off in the next couple of years its not going to interrupt much operationally.”
Notably, uranium was not included when the Biden administration announced on Tuesday it was banning Russian imports of crude, coal, and other energy products.
The Biden administration is weighing several options and everything is on the table, a senior administration official said, adding that no decision on the matter was imminent.
Any such ban could raise the price of uranium and have a big effect on nuclear operators such as Southern Co. and Constellation Energy Group, Inc., while a possible boon for domestic miners such as Energy Fuels Inc. and Ur-Energy Inc.
In recent days, the Uranium Producers of America have called on the Biden administration to ban Russian uranium imports, while nuclear industry groups have lobbied against imposing sanctions on the nation’s uranium.
“We can’t afford not to have Russian uranium and enrichment,” said Chris Gadomski, a nuclear industry analyst with Bloomberg NEF. “Russian uranium is cheaper than other global sources while U.S. production is negligible.”
U.S nuclear operators would have to look toward importing enriched uranium from other countries such as France, Japan and China if there are sanctions put in place on the fuel from Russia, Maria Korsnick, chief executive officer of the Nuclear Energy Institute, said during a press event during the CERAWeek by S&P Global event in Houston.
“I think we are in good shape” for short term supplies of enriched uranium with operators having supplies for refueling this spring and fall. “That gives us time to react”.
(By Ari Natter, Nick Wadhams and Saleha Mohsin, with assistance from Will Wade and Mark Chediak)