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US nuclear power industry pushing White House against ban on Russian uranium

Uranium pellets, a nuclear fuel product for atomic power plants, are seen on a production line at Ulba Metallurgical Plant in Kazakhstan's eastern town of Ust-Kamenogorsk on August 11, 2006. (Photo by Reuters)

The US nuclear power industry is reportedly lobbying the Biden administration to permit continued import of uranium from Russia despite the growing conflict in Ukraine, citing the cheap supply of the fuel as key to maintaining low electricity prices in the country.

The National Energy Institute (NEI), a trade group of American nuclear power generation companies, including Duke Energy Corp and Exelon Corp, is lobbying the White House to keep the exemption on uranium imports from Russia, Reuters reported Wednesday citing “two sources familiar with the matter.”

"The (US nuclear power) industry is just addicted to cheap Russian uranium," said one of the sources cited in the report, who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the “sensitivity of the situation.”

The US depends on Russia and its allies Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan for nearly half of the uranium powering its nuclear plants, about 10.3 million kilograms in 2020, which in turn produce nearly 20 percent of electricity across the United States, according to the US Energy Information Administration and the World Nuclear Association.

Australia and Canada also have large reserves of uranium and there is ample processing capability there and in Europe, the report adds. But Russia and its allies are the cheapest producers.

The development comes as the US and its mostly European allies have imposed a series of sanctions on Moscow in the past week as Russian forces continued their advance into neighboring Ukraine. The sanctions, however, exempt uranium sales and related financial transactions, according to the report.

The NEI lobbying, the sources add, intends to ensure that uranium does not get caught up in any future energy-related sanctions, especially amid mounting calls to sanction Russian crude oil sales.

Moreover, the US nuclear power industry's use of Russian uranium will most likely trigger further questions about where and how the US procures the materials needed to supply high-tech and renewable-energy products, a dependency that President Joe Biden described last week as a national security threat.

The Washington-based NEI also emphasized that it supports a diversity of uranium supply, including the development of facilities across the US to produce and process the fuel.

"While Russia is a significant global supplier of commercial nuclear fuel, US utilities contract with a worldwide network of companies and countries for their fuel requirements to mitigate the risks of potential disruption," said NEI's senior director of fuel and radiation safety, Nima Ashkeboussi, as quoted in the report.

The report comes as Russian forces advance toward Ukraine’s capital of Kiev.

Reacting to queries about the uranium lobbying in Washington, a White House official cited in the report stated the administration is working to keep American energy costs low, saying, "We are listening to all inquiries from industry and will continue to do so as we take measures to hold Russia accountable."

Uranium is used as a fuel inside reactors to achieve nuclear fission to boil water and generate steam that spins turbines to generate electricity.

Currently, there is no functioning uranium production or processing facilities in the United States, the report adds, noting that several companies have expressed interest in resuming domestic production if they can sign long-term supply contracts with nuclear power producers.

The US states of Texas and Wyoming have large uranium reserves, according to the report, which further noted that former US President Donald Trump proposed spending $150 million to create a strategic uranium reserve in 2020, and the Biden administration has expressed support for the idea.

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