Four U.S. Republican Senators on March 17 introduced a bill to ban imports of Russian uranium into the country as the United States moves to further isolate Moscow in the wake of its invasion of Ukraine.
The bill was introduced by Sens. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.), and Roger Marshall (R-Kansas) and would go into effect 45 days after it is enacted if it is passed by the Senate and House of Representatives.
The United States, with 93 operating nuclear reactors, has more than any other country and is heavily reliant on imported uranium.
While President Joe Biden has so far levied a string of sanctions against Russia including restricting oil, natural gas, and coal imports, it is yet to ban imports of Russian uranium, which made up 16 percent of U.S. purchases in 2020, according to the Energy Information Administration.
Russia’s uranium production is controlled by Rosatom, a state-run company formed by Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2007.
“While banning imports of Russian oil, gas, and coal is an important step, it cannot be the last. Banning Russian uranium imports will further defund Russia’s war machine, help revive American uranium production, and increase our national security,” Barrasso said in a statement.
Barrasso represents the state of Wyoming which is the leader in uranium production, having produced an estimated 173,000 lbs in 2019, and accounting for nearly all U.S. production.
“The time is now to permanently remove all Russian energy from the American marketplace,” Barrasso, who is the top Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, added. “We know Vladimir Putin uses this money to help fund his brutal and unprovoked war in Ukraine.”
Kathryn Huff, who was nominated by President Joe Biden to be an assistant secretary for nuclear energy, told Barrasso in her nomination hearing on Thursday that she believes the United States needs to “build out capacity for a Western alternative to the Russian component of the uranium market, including conversion and enrichment capacity.”
“I do believe that a solution to not only the current fleet’s needs for uranium as well as high-assay low-enriched uranium for our advanced reactor fleet can be solved with sufficient support from appropriations and direction from the Department of Energy, Huff, who is now a senior official in the Department, said.
Russia also supplies the United States with high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU) which is enriched between 5 percent and 20 percent and is needed for most U.S. advanced reactors to allow them to achieve longer operating cycles, require refueling less often, and generally improve their performance.
Current reactor fuel is enriched up to 5 percent.
HALEU could be used in both existing reactors and new advanced reactors that are expected to be developed later this decade or in the 2030s amid a push for carbon-free electricity.
Given the lack of commercial-scale availability of HALEU from domestic suppliers, the United States would likely need to act fast to boost supply at home if a ban is enacted.
A spokesperson for the Nuclear Energy Institute, the industry’s main trade group, said in a statement that it supports the development of domestic uranium in the United States, adding that it is assessing the bill and “the potential impacts of fuel disruption on the U.S. nuclear fleet.”
However, some environmental groups have opposed the development of a U.S. uranium industry.
Reuters contributed to this report.