Russia: Russia’s nuclear trade with Europe continues despite the war in Ukraine

While the European Union has agreed to reduce its use of Russian oil and gas, its member countries continue to import and export nuclear fuel which is not subject to EU sanctions – much to the chagrin of the Ukrainian government and environmental activists.

A freighter carrying uranium from the French port of Dunkirk crossed the North Sea on Thursday towards the Russian Baltic port of Ust-Luga. It was the third time in just over a month that the vessel Mikhail Dudin, flying the Panamanian flag, docked in Dunkirk to transport uranium to or from Russia.

The environmental group Greenpeace France denounced the ongoing shipments and called for an end to all trade in nuclear fuel, which it said “financed the war in Ukraine, extended energy dependence (of Europe) and delayed the transition to renewable energy”.

The executive arm of the EU, the European Commission, has not offered to target the Russian nuclear sector in
its latest sanctions package presented on Wednesday.

“France ensures strict compliance by economic players with all the European sanctions adopted against Russia. Civil nuclear power is not affected by these sanctions,” the French Foreign Ministry told the Associated Press.

The ministry said EU countries “did not consider this a relevant area for ending Russian aggression against Ukraine.”

Ukraine, meanwhile, is pushing for EU sanctions in this area. The Ukrainian president’s economic adviser, Oleg Ustenko, said on Wednesday that “when it comes to uranium, we think it is extremely important to impose sanctions, not only on Russian oil.”

“Oil, gas, uranium and coal, all of that should be banned. Because they are using that money to fund this war,” Ustenko said.

According to Greenpeace France, reprocessed uranium intended for transport to Russia was loaded on the Mikhail Dudin on Wednesday. Pauline Boyer, energy campaigner at Greenpeace France, said the ship’s repeated trips between Russia and France show “how trapped the French nuclear industry is in its dependence on Russia”. .

French authorities have repeatedly said that the country does not depend on Russia to supply the nuclear power plants which provide 67% of its electricity – more than any other country.

EDF, which manages all of France’s nuclear power plants, said in a statement that its uranium supplies were “guaranteed by long-term contracts of up to 20 years, with a policy of diversification in terms of sources and suppliers”.

France imports most of its uranium from Niger, Australia and Kazakhstan.

“The value of trade in nuclear fuel exported from Russia is small compared to that of gas and oil exports,” the French foreign ministry said, suggesting that imposing sanctions in this area would not have much effect. effect on Moscow.

The ministry said France and the EU aim “in the long term” to be independent of all Russian energy sources, including nuclear fuel.

Greenpeace France said a shipment of Russian uranium that an Associated Press reporter saw unloading in Dunkirk earlier this month had been trucked to a plant in Lingen, Germany.

The Lingen plant is operated by Framatome, majority-owned by French utility giant EDF. It supplies nuclear fuel to power plants in France, Belgium, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Great Britain, Spain, Sweden and Finland.

In the face of activist protests, the German government took a critical view of the uranium shipment, but said it
could not prevent fuel from being processed because it is not covered by the sanctions linked to the EU’s war against Russia.

At the end of last month, enriched uranium unloaded from the Mikhail Dudin in Dunkirk was destined for the Rhone Valley in southern France, which is home to important sites of France’s civilian nuclear industry, according to Greenpeace France.

The French nuclear sector has a series of contracts with the Russian state-controlled energy giant Rosatom, including some to import enriched uranium for European nuclear power plants and to export reprocessed uranium to Russia. Rosatom is one of the world’s largest players in the nuclear energy market.

The multinational Orano, headquartered in France, has a contract with Rosatom to buy reprocessed uranium to convert it into nuclear fuel at its plant in Seversk, Siberia, and eventually use it in reactors to produce energy.

The US electrical industry also imports uranium from Russia to fuel its nuclear power plants.

AP recently tracked
millions of dollars of shipments of radioactive uranium hexafluoride from Russian state-owned Tenex JSC, the world’s largest exporter of early stage nuclear fuel cycle products, to Westinghouse Electric Co. in South Carolina.