- US companies send about $1 billion a year to Russia’s state-owned nuclear agency.
- The US is heavily reliant on Russia’s cheap nuclear fuel to produce emissions-free energy.
- Russia’s nuclear agency has been running Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant since its capture from Ukraine.
US companies are sending $1 billion each year to Russia’s state-owned nuclear agency, despite President Joe Biden pledging to cripple Russia’s economy, according to a report in The New York Times.
The payments for enriched uranium are one of the biggest sources of cash from the US to Russia since it was hit by wide-ranging sanctions for its invasion of Ukraine, the Times said.
The money for enriched uranium is received by subsidiaries of Rosatom, Russia’s state-owned nuclear agency, which has been running Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant since its forceful capture in March 2022.
US companies spent about $1 billion in 2022 buying nuclear fuel from Rosatom, The New York Times reported.
The US imported another $411.5 million in enriched uranium between January and March 2023, Darya Dolzikova, an analyst working for UK-based security think tank Royal United Services Institute told Insider in an email.
In his State of Union address last year, Biden pledged to damage Russia’s economy. “We are inflicting pain on Russia and supporting the people of Ukraine. Putin is now isolated from the world more than ever,” the president declared.
While the US has issued wide-ranging sanctions against Russia, nuclear fuel is one of the few energy sources that has not been banned by the West, The Wall Street Journal reported.
The White House did levy some sanctions against Rosatom and several of its executives in late February, per Politico. However, Western firms continue to maintain deep ties with the atomic company, which dominates the nuclear supply chain.
“I think it’s fair to say that probably in terms of sanctions [nuclear fuel] has gone a bit below the radar,” said Antony Froggatt, deputy director of the Environment and Society Centre of London-based policy institute Chatham House, in an interview with Insider.
Proportionally, the nuclear fuel market represents a fraction of the amount of money lost by Russia due to the sanctions, per The Washington Post.
However $1 billion does represent a substantial part of Rosatom’s foreign earnings, which have been estimated at $8 billion per year, the Post reported.
“It shouldn’t be that any sector is exempt from scrutiny,” said Froggatt. “Even though financially it may be less important, I think for an overarching equity of policies it should be put against all energy sources,” he said.
Why is the US so dependent on Russia for nuclear energy?
Russia has been exporting cheap enriched uranium to the US since the Cold War. That’s in part because of Russia’s dominance in the global market. The country supplies about 43% of the world with enriched uranium. The US, meanwhile, has virtually stopped enriching its uranium, per The Times.
Because of this, the US has become commercially dependent on Russia, a tie that has not been easy to sever.
According to The New York Times, around a third of enriched uranium used in the US is now imported from Russia.
And it’s not just the US who is heavily dependent. Some central European countries still have working Soviet-era nuclear power plants to operate, and depend heavily on Rosatom to keep them working, Frogatt said.
“I think it’s important to look at Rosatom’s ambitions on the global level,” he said, adding: “It always has had a very ambitious program of exporting nuclear technology.”