West Reliant on Russian Nuclear Fuel Amid Decarbonization Push

London — A new report and research from a British defense research group has found that many Western nations are still reliant on Russian nuclear fuel to power their reactors, despite efforts to sever economic ties with the Kremlin following its February 2022 full-scale invasion of Ukraine. 

“Russia may be able to take advantage of incongruencies in sanctions or other restrictions, as well as persistent contractual dependencies and supply challenges, to maintain access to Western nuclear fuel supply chains and continue generating revenue through its enriched uranium exports,” the Royal United Services Institute, or RUSI, says in its report.  


Of those supplying nuclear fuel, Rosatom, Russia’s State Atomic Energy Corporation, “is the biggest supplier of uranium enrichment to the global market” and has continued to export significant volumes of enriched uranium product since February 2022. The report estimates that Russia sold enriched uranium worth $2.7 billion in 2023. 

Rosatom supplied some 30 percent of the enriched uranium purchased by European Union states in 2022, and 23 percent of that purchased by U.S. utility companies, according to the RUSI analysis of publicly available statistics. Not all countries publish their import or export figures for nuclear materials. 

Western companies may be finding it difficult to change long-term contracts with Rosatom, said Darya Dolzikova, author of the RUSI report. “In the enriched uranium space in particular, there are historical dependencies, so there are contractual obligations that might be difficult for certain utilities to get out of,” she told VOA. 

French dependency 

France, which has 56 nuclear reactors generating around two-thirds of the country’s electricity, is one of Russia’s biggest customers for enriched uranium, despite growing political tensions between Paris and Moscow over the invasion of Ukraine. 

“Imports into France of Russian enriched uranium have increased significantly since the start of 2022. So there was an increase of about 184 percent in volume,” Dolzikova said.

French utility EDF is even planning a joint venture with Russia’s state-run Rosatom to process uranium at a site in Lingen, Germany.  

The RUSI report also details Russian uranium exports to the United States, Germany and the Netherlands. “Russia is still the biggest exporter of enriched uranium and enrichment services globally. They account for about 44% total capacity of enrichment services,” Dolzikova added. 


Global enthusiasm for nuclear power fell after the 2011 Fukushima reactor meltdown in Japan.  

However, as countries try to slash carbon emissions to combat climate change, many governments are rethinking their approach to atomic power. At a March 21 meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Brussels, several world leaders called for a reinvestment in nuclear power.   

“Adapting supply chains take time. And doing it in a secure and reliable way takes time. But it is clearly one of the assignments to the industry and to governments working on this, is to adapt supply chains as fast as possible and also … to disconnect from Russian supply,” Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo told delegates at the IAEA meeting. 

“But we need to balance things, I mean, in a sense, if you want to decarbonize, if you want to reduce CO2 production, we need to make sure that our nuclear power plants can continue,” De Croo added. 

China ‘displacement’ 

The report says Russian exports to China have also increased, raising suspicions that Beijing could be importing Russian enriched uranium to facilitate greater exports of China’s own enriched uranium supply — so-called “displacement.” 

“We know that China is also keen to increase its own role, expanded zone role on global nuclear fuel markets. So that raises questions as to whether the additional imports into China of Russian uranium could potentially be backing increased exports of Chinese material. That is very difficult to prove definitively,” said report author Dolzikova. 


Western nations are trying to boost their nuclear self-sufficiency. France is boosting uranium enrichment capacity by more than 30 percent at a site in the southern region of Valence, according to nuclear industry reports. The American firm Westinghouse and Ukrainian firm Energoatom have begun producing nuclear fuel that can supply former Soviet reactors in eastern Europe, from a site in Sweden.   

Dolzikova of RUSI said it will take at least two years for the West to end its reliance on Russian nuclear fuel. While boosting Western enrichment capacity is vital, the RUSI report also recommends that trade measures are tightened to cut Russia out of global markets. 

“Sanctions — or any kind of restrictions — need to be multilateral. Otherwise, because of the complexity of enriched uranium supply chains and fuel supply chains, Russia will find the weakest link in that wall of restrictions to try to continue accessing Western markets,” Dolzikova added.

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