Will the EU Sanction Russia’s Nuclear Industry?

Conor here: With the Green Party steering the ship, Germany just shut down its remaining six nuclear power plants even though that now means importing more fossil fuels. Germany’s rush to shutter the plants starts to make more sense now that Berlin is pushing for these sanctions as it’s clear the Greens don’t care much about being green unless it also involves some sort of pyrrhic victory against Russia. Better burn that coal.

By Felicity Bradstock, a freelance writer specializing in Energy and Finance. Originally published at OilPrice.

In February 2022, the EU imposed sanctions on Russia in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The sanctions at this point included restrictive measures (individual sanctions), economic sanctions, and visa measures. The sanctions aimed to disrupt the country’s economy to prevent Russia from continuing its conflict with Ukraine. Throughout the year, the EU and other parts of the world increased the number and types of sanctions on Russia as they decreased their reliance on Russian energy.

In December 2022, the EU banned the import of Russian crude oil and in February 2023 the region banned imports of Russian diesel, jet fuel, and other oil products. These sanctions came later than many others due to the heavy reliance of many EU countries on Russian energy. For example, before the war, Germany imported around half of its gas from Russia and more than a third of its oil. But in January, Germany stated that it was no longer reliant on Russian energy.

But one area that the EU has avoided sanctioning, to date, is Russian nuclear power. This is largely because of the significant role Russia’s state-owned nuclear energy monopoly, Rosatom, plays in global nuclear power. Paul Dorfman, chair of Nuclear Consulting Group, explained that the problem is a “Russian doll’s worth of interlocking dependencies.”

Firstly, Rosatom is a major exporter of nuclear fuel, providing the U.S. with 14 percent of its uranium in 2021. Meanwhile, utilities across Europe purchased around a fifth of their uranium from Rosatom, and they have been unable to diversify their uranium sources since cutting other energy ties with Russia. Rosatom also provided 28 percent of the U.S.’s enrichment services in 2021.”

Further, Rosatom is not just limited to Russia, holding ownership of several nuclear plants around the world. By the end of 2021, one in five nuclear plants worldwide was either in Russia or was Russian-built. Rosatom has repeatedly stepped in to help finance nuclear plants in countries that want to expand their nuclear power sectors but don’t have the money to do so. Many of these plants fall under a build-own-operate model, relying on Rosatom for their operation.

Certain EU states have, therefore, opposed sanctions on Russian nuclear power as they continue to rely on Rosatom for their energy security. For example. Hungary sources around 40 percent of its electricity from nuclear power and has a long-term financing deal with Rosatom to build two new nuclear reactors. In February this year, the European Commission (EC) scrapped plans for sanctions on Russia’s nuclear energy industry, citing opposition from some member states. The EU had considered imposing sanctions on individual employees of Rosatom and other companies on the list but has not acted on this idea so far.

Despite uncertainty over how to impose sanctions on Russian nuclear energy without harming the interests of several European countries, such as Hungary and Bulgaria, the nuclear sanction plan is on the table once again. Germany, Poland, and the Baltic EU member states are pushing for new sanctions on Russian nuclear energy as a means of imposing greater harm on Russia’s economy, as the war on Ukraine continues.

Robert Habeck, the German economy and climate minister stated, “Across the EU, we must keep making ourselves independent from Russia.” Habeck added, “The nuclear sector is still outstanding. It is not justifiable that this area is still given preferential treatment. Nuclear technology is an extremely sensitive area, and Russia can no longer be seen as reliable partner within it.”

A Royal United Services report stated that “Between March and December 2022, Russia exported just over $1 billion-worth of materials and technology of relevance to the nuclear energy sector.” And “This trade included exports to members of NATO and the EU. In fact, not only has the value of Russian nuclear-related exports not shrunk since February 2022, the data reviewed by the author suggests that it may be expanding, with a handful of loyal customers still eager to do business with Russia’s nuclear sector.”

Ukraine has repeatedly condemned the EU for not introducing sanctions on Russia’s nuclear might alongside other restrictions on Russian energy. So far, the EU has imposed 10 packages of sanctions on Russia, with preparations for the 11th one now taking place. However, despite pressure from Ukraine and several EU member states to include nuclear power in the new sanctions, the EC must consider what this will mean for countries like Hungary and Bulgaria, which continue to rely on Russian nuclear power for their energy. Not to mention the fact that nuclear power is a major clean energy source, and a halt of Russian nuclear energy could encourage some countries to return to fossil fuels. The EU must now weigh up the positive and negative implications of sanctioning Russian nuclear power to determine the right move.

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  1. JW

    The EU must now weigh up how to shoot itself in the foot again , part 3 or is it part 4?

    1. digi_owl

      Well they could perhaps start by getting USA to let go of the arm holding the gun…

  2. The Rev Kev

    Scholz and Habeck have got a bit of an a*** on them to come out with this bright idea. It’s like a person who just purchased an EV vehicle start demanding higher gas taxes on cars. They waited until they shut down their last three nuclear power stations and then a coupla days later demanded that all of the EU give up Russian nuclear energy when it no longer effected them – though god help them this coming winter. It is not only Hungary that is still using Russian nuclear but other EU countries that are still using it and I think that France is one of them. Habeck may scream and shout but he is stuck. To enact this policy he would have to get ALL the nations of the EU to vote for it and I cannot see those countries that need Russian fuel voting along with it. So it is not really a serious proposal as it is not coming from a serious person. When Brussels stops importing diamonds from Russia, then this Russian fuel ban might then become a serious proposal.

    1. vao

      It is not only Hungary that is still using Russian nuclear but other EU countries that are still using it and I think that France is one of them.

      France is not at all reliant on fuel from Russia for its nuclear power plants — it manufactures fuel rods from uranium imported from Niger, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Canada and Australia.

      However, France depends on Russia for some crucial steps in reprocessing spent fuel. France is able to separate Plutonium from spent fuel (which then goes into its very own atomic armament), but has to send the remaining material all the way to a Rosatom plant in Seversk to turn it into usable fissile material. Should this become impossible, then unusable spent fuel will start accumulating in France. What would happen with the mass of ultra-depleted uranium (one of the outcome of reprocessing French spent fuel) that has been stored in Siberia for decades, is another question.

  3. Piotr Berman

    In Slovakia, by EU rules and by EU companies:

    [Mochovce] Construction of Units 3 and 4 restarted in November 2008. They were planned initially to be completed in 2012 and 2013,[2] but the completion date was shifted to 2016 and 2017.[3] More recently the completion date has slipped to 2020 and 2022.[not updated since then]

    In Hungary, with RosAtom: construction started or will start, unclear, scheduled to be completed in 2032. In projects in Belarus the completion happened 6-7 years after start, and projects in Turkey and Bangladesh proceed with this pace, Turkey will attach the first reactor to the grid this year.

    European and American companies are hopelessly not competitive with RosAtom, costs and completion times both double. If they complete at all.

  4. tevhatch

    It’s meaningless shuffle, the EU will buy more from X, so Y will sell to where X use to sell, and X will sell more to Y’s lost market. If there is massive excess capacity it won’t be in the west, excess/spare capacity is an anathema to neo-liberal brand of cut it to the bone capitalism, This is the phenomena we see with Russian Heavy Crude, but because there are few equivalents for it, the EU imports it anyway, but labeled Indian or Algerian finished products at a significant markup, while EU refineries run inefficently at well below capacity, so tripling the carbon footprint.

  5. TomDority

    Therefore, the ability to determine the origin of a dirty bomb or other nuclear device is in fact not knowable.
    Thus the sensors being put in Ukraine being touted as capable of determining origin are just window dressing or ‘turning a sows ear into a purse’ to try giving the non-credible – credibility.
    Again – just my cynical comment – given the utter lack of information caused by an over-zealous secrecy lid to both hide glaring mistakes and un-truths or as is said to support “Our findings remain intact for alternative definitions of trust” or truth>

    1. Anders K

      The sensors are there to prove Russian guilt, and if military nukes are used will likely do so with fairness and precision (I doubt any other nuke capable nation is interested in carrying water for Russia in this particular case). A “civilian” weapon – which most dirty bombs are likely to be – is far harder to fingerprint, and here your scepticism is warranted.

      Not that it’s victims will care, if it happens.

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