Opinion: Nuclear Energy Security - Sleep Walking Into The Next Energy Crisis?

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Commentators fundamentally underappreciate nan vulnerability of nan West's atomic manufacture to Russia, and nan assemblage whitethorn beryllium astir to go embroiled successful nan Russia-West economical conflict. The EU is debating sanctioning Russia's atomic sector, pinch nan EU parliament passing a resolution by 489 votes to 36 urging European Union leaders to see sanctions connected Russia's atomic manufacture successful nan 10th sanctions package, which is expected earlier nan 24th of February. Tensions will escalate arsenic President Putin uses each intends astatine his disposal to unafraid a triumph successful Ukraine, including action to discourage Western support for Ukraine.

Nuclear power produces roughly one-fifth of energy successful nan EU and USA. Commentators attraction connected Russia's power complete European and American atomic powerfulness successful 3 areas. Firstly, Russia is simply a awesome uranium supplier, nan worldly mined for atomic fuel. Secondly, Russia is moreover much ascendant successful processing uranium into atomic substance via conversion and enrichment processes, representing 46% of nan world's enrichment capacity. On average, nan EU and USA dangle connected Russia for complete 20% of their supplies and services successful these areas. Thirdly, commentators statement that galore atomic plants successful Eastern Europe are Russian-made and trust connected Russia for attraction and substance supply. While Europe and nan USA person immoderate countermeasures - principally restarting aliases building processing capacity - these will return time, money, and frankincense acold absent urgency.

Focusing connected these areas, peculiarly Russia's power successful processing, is insufficient study of nan risks to nan West's atomic power security. A broader, much holistic position reveals that uranium is perchance nan astir susceptible facet of nan atomic sector. Russia tin target nan uranium proviso beyond its services and trade, and a tight uranium marketplace will amplify nan effect of disruptive action.

Russia's Influence Over nan West's Uranium

The uranium marketplace and waste and acquisition routes are concentrated, making them susceptible to disruption. Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, producing complete half of nan world's uranium supply, are geopolitically susceptible to Russia. Together pinch Russia, these countries relationship for 44% and 49% of nan uranium proviso to nan EU and USA respectively. Kazakh and Uzbek uranium exports often transit done Russia, via St Petersburg aliases Russian airspace. The main replacement route, touted arsenic a Russia-free substitute, is besides vulnerable, including land, maritime, and aerial routes crossed nan Black Sea, Caspian Sea, Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Armenia. Russia could artifact transit done its territory, and a peculiarly hopeless Russia could moreover usage its regionally progressive subject forces to interfere pinch adjacent aerial aliases maritime trade. New routes for nan West are improbable arsenic they would transverse Iran, Afghanistan, aliases China - which often stockpiles imported uranium alternatively than exporting it.

Russia could besides exert unit aliases return action to disrupt uranium accumulation and waste and acquisition successful Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and 'alternative route' countries. It has important power complete these countries, which were each successful nan Soviet Union. In Kazakhstan, Russian soldiers propped up President Tokayev successful January 2022 and Russian companies are besides heavy integrated into Kazakh uranium production. Russia could exert power connected Armenia and Azerbaijan arsenic a militarily-involved agent successful nan Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, and connected Georgia done its puppet breakaway republic of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Russia besides has subject bases successful and astir these states.

Given Russia's subject attraction connected Ukraine, action is apt to beryllium covert aliases correspond 'grey zone' warfare. Threats, pressure, and nan modicum of deniability afforded by clone explanations could thrust these pivotal countries successful nan uranium marketplace to beryllium politically pragmatic, acquiescing aliases turning a unsighted oculus to Russia disrupting their uranium waste and acquisition aliases production. Disruptive action could travel successful nan guise of firm sabotage, harm by 'democratic agitators', aliases technical, environmental, and operational issues, which disrupt uranium supply, conscionable arsenic 'technical issues' initially stopped Russian state supply to Europe via Nord Stream 1.

A Global Uranium Deficit Will Amplify Any Disruption

An emerging structural uranium demand-supply imbalance would amplify nan effect of Russian disruption. Demand for atomic power is surging arsenic countries statesman to recognise it is basal to nan power transition; providing reliable power capacity to complement intermittent powerfulness from renewable sources. Supply cannot meet rising demand. Uranium prices person been debased for a decade, disincentivising excavation development, pursuing nan unpopularity of atomic power aft nan Fukushima disaster. Since 2019, uranium prices person doubled, arsenic stockpiles person plummeted, and excavation proviso has fallen to 77% of world demand. New uranium accumulation to combat nan proviso shortage will look slowly, it takes 10-15 years to build a excavation and roughly 2 years to restart a suspended one.

The Cost of Action and Inaction

Whether Russia aliases little apt nan West, will prosecute this caller beforehand successful nan economical conflict - particularly arsenic tensions emergence - is unknown. Russia presently holds astir of nan cards successful nan atomic sector, peculiarly uranium supply; patchy Western stockpiles will not supply broad resilience. Indeed, Russia could astir apt tolerate nan economical consequences of weaponizing nan assemblage considering its readiness to consequence state gross from EU customers. Gas earned it c.US$55Bn since February 2022 from nan EU alone, while its atomic exports to Europe and nan USA gain it a specified US$1Bn a year.

A uranium proviso daze could spark sky-high prices. While nan atomic manufacture tin sorb a higher uranium price, arsenic nan worldly is simply a mini constituent of operating costs, being capable to salary elevated prices does not guarantee supply. As nan world scramble for PPE during nan COVID-19 pandemic shows, financial firepower has limits and possession tin go king, pinch nan 'have' and 'have nots' quickly becoming apparent. In 2023, being a 'have' could simply mean keeping nan lights on.

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Editor's Note: The summary bullets for this article were chosen by Seeking Alpha editors.

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