The Government sees "low risk" of uranium supply to nuclear if there is a cut from Russia

The Government assures that there is "low risk of shortage" of uranium to Spanish nuclear power plants if, as a result of the invasion of Ukraine, there is a hypothetical cut in supply from Russia, a key supplier in this market on a global scale.

“The diverse geographical distribution of uranium resources, as well as the facilities in which the conversion and enrichment processes are carried out, located in countries with political stability, allows us to speak of a low risk of shortages”, affirms the Executive in a recent parliamentary response.

In it, the Government recalls that the state company Enusa, responsible for supplying the enriched uranium that feeds the reactors, has signed contracts with different suppliers of uranium concentrates, as well as conversion and enrichment services, "which allow decisions to be taken necessary to deal with a possible cut in supplies from Russia.

Spain, which last year vetoed the project to build a uranium concentrate manufacturing plant In the deposit that the Australian mining company Berkeley wanted to exploit in Retortillo (Salamanca), it imports 100% of this mineral, from which the fuel for the seven operating nuclear reactors is extracted. These cover around 20% of the electricity demand with just over 6% of the installed power.

A 1999 decree obliges power companies to have available a physical reserve of enriched uranium equivalent to two 18-month recharges, which is deposited in the Enusa factory in Juzbado (Salamanca). The companies must have the fuel for each refill stored at the plants, at least two months in advance. These are held every year and a half.

This "gives a margin of time to solve any eventual interruption of supply," says the Government. In May, in the presentation of results for the first quarter, Endesa already indicated that, indirectly through Enusa, it is analyzing the effects on nuclear fuel supply orders from Russia as of 2024 and that this company is deriving manufacturing orders to other suppliers.

In 2020, and according to Enusa data collected by the Nuclear Forum, Russia accounted for 38.7% of the uranium concentrates imported by Spain, more than any other supplier and well ahead of Canada (22.3%), Niger ( 19.5%) or Kazakhstan (11%). The latter country, very close to the Vladimir Putin regime, is the world's largest producer, with a 41% share, according to the World Nuclear Association.

Enusa does not specify the current weight of Russia in that mix. In an email, to questions on this matter, the state company indicates that “in the short term, the enriched uranium necessary for the operation of the Spanish nuclear park is available. In the medium and long term, different scenarios are being considered, assessing the role that the Russian nuclear industry may play in the future, as well as the capacity that the remaining enriched uranium suppliers may contribute”.

The company belonging to the State Industrial Participation Society (SEPI) points out that "a fundamental element of our policy is the security of the uranium supply for customers". To do this, it has signed contracts "with the main world suppliers, maintaining a policy of diversification of sources and mechanisms of fixed prices and prices indexed to the market with upward limits", to protect itself from possible increases.

Enusa recalls that "various mechanisms are available to avoid an interruption in the supply of uranium", such as flexibility clauses in the quantities that can be purchased annually and the reserve stocks of enriched uranium established by the regulations, in addition to "various other stocks operations capable of absorbing the variations produced by situations such as the one we are currently experiencing”.

More than 100 days after the invasion of Ukraine by the Putin regime, the embargo on uranium purchases and the powerful Russian nuclear industry has not been put on the table until now, unlike what happened with oil and gas.

Nor by the United States, which in 2020 imported to Russia 16% of the uranium consumed by the 94 nuclear reactors that were in the country at the time, nor from the European Commission, although in April, five EU diplomats revealed to Political that some EU members want to ban imports of that mineral to Russia. Among them, Germany, which maintains its plan to turn off nuclear power this year, despite the current energy crisis.

Some European countries are highly dependent on Russian nuclear technology. Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Finland, Hungary and Slovakia currently have old Soviet-made VVER reactors in operation on their territory, totally dependent on fuel supplied by TVEL, a subsidiary of the Russian state-owned company Rosatom. And Hungary and Slovakia depend on Russian nuclear fuel for half of their demand, according to last week. eurobserver

Russia has exported more reactors in recent decades than any other country, with Finland, Slovakia or the Czech Republic among its clients, although not Spain. And it is a key supplier of uranium and services associated with the manufacture of this fuel. To carry out that process, the raw uranium must be extracted from underground and ground into uranium oxide before being sent to facilities that convert it into uranium hexafluoride, the previous step to enrich it and use it as fuel.

Russia is not one of the main world producers from the point of view of uranium extraction, but it has a very important weight in the extraction operations of this mineral from third countries, such as Kazakhstan or Uzbekistan. In 2020 it was, with just over 20%, the second largest supplier of this mineral to Europe, according to Euratom, practically tied with Niger.

According to a report published in May by the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University, Russia possessed 40% of the total uranium conversion infrastructure in the world in 2020 and 46% of the total uranium enrichment capacity in 2018.

According to Euratom, Rosatom provided through its subsidiary Tenex 26% of uranium enrichment services to EU power companies in 2020. Moscow's income from nuclear fuel exports was modest compared to what it gets from the gas and oil, around 650 million euros in 2020, according to annual figures from Rosatom. But its fuel manufacturing plant has 14.6 billion euros in outstanding orders.

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