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US Senate passes Russian uranium imports ban, sending prices higher

Highlights

System of waivers in place through 2027, full ban in 2028

Ban enacted in reaction to Russian invasion of Ukraine

Passage unlocks $2.8 billon in funding for Western nuclear fuel supply chain

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  • Oliver Adelman    Mary Catherine Hancock
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  • Haripriya Banerjee
  • Commodity
  • Electric Power Natural Gas Upstream

The US Senate unanimously passed April 30 a ban on imports of Russian uranium, following passage of a similar bill in the House of Representatives in December, sending uranium prices higher as markets anticipate a growing need for non-Russian supply.

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The bill bans the import of unirradiated, low-enriched uranium from Russia, but establishes a waiver system through the end of 2027 for nuclear power plant operators without viable alternative sources of the fuel. The law is being enacted to reduce US reliance on Russian uranium for nuclear fuel following Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

The ban will come into effect 90 days after it is signed into law by US President Joe Biden.

Platts assessed the spot price of mined uranium, U3O8, up $3 on the day to $92.50/lb on May 1. The spot price of UF6, the gas form of uranium needed for enrichment, rose $8 over the same period to $302/kgU from $294/kgU.

"The market is going to run on this news," a fuel buyer said May 1, adding that his utility was not in need of any uranium as a result of the action.

While many utilities anticipated the passage of the ban and mitigated the risk of the potential loss of supply, Dustin Garrow, head of marketing at uranium developer Deep Yellow, said in an interview May 1 that "those that didn't do their homework will have some issues."

Garrow noted the floors and ceilings of long-term pricing contracts for U3O8 had risen over the past months and that with the passage of the ban, "the ceilings could go away all together."

Just how quickly U3O8 and UF6 prices will rise is unclear at this time, Garrow said, "it depends on what the Russians are going to do in response."

While some market participants warned that Russia could pre-emptively cut off the US from enriched uranium should a phased-in ban is enacted, Russian state nuclear company Rosatom said it seeks to fulfill deliveries regardless of legislative action.

The passage also unlocks $2.72 billion in government funding to support domestic uranium enrichment capabilities that was included in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2024 passed by both chambers in early March. The language in the law kept the US Department of Energy from accessing the money until Congress enacted the provisions of the ban.

Nuclear industry officials have said reactors could not wean themselves from Russian enriched uranium without an expansion of Western capacity to convert and enrich U3O8 for fabrication into nuclear fuel. Rosatom supplies 20% of US reactor requirements, a figure capped under a settlement agreement resolving an anti-dumping investigation.

In addition to needing enrichment services for the US fleet of 94 reactors, developers of next-generation reactors have expressed concern that the US does not have adequate capacity to supply higher-enrichment uranium for advanced reactor projects in the pipeline. Russia was, until recently, the only commercial supplier of the higher-enrichment uranium.

The Nuclear Innovation Alliance said in a statement May 1 the funds for expanding capacity to produce enriched uranium are needed for the nuclear industry to move forward. The bill's passage "marks a significant milestone in catalyzing a robust, domestic commercial uranium fuel supply chain to support current and future nuclear reactors," the group said.

Senator Joe Barrasso, a Republican from Wyoming who spearheaded the bill's passage through the Senate, said in a statement April 30 that the state of Wyoming alone contained enough uranium to "replace Russian imports, and we're ready to use it. Our bipartisan legislation will help defund Russia's war machine, review American uranium production, and jump-start investments in America's nuclear fuel supply chain."

German Galushchenko, the Ukrainian energy minister, said in a statement May 1 that he was "confident that the decision to ban uranium imports will be the beginning of further refusal to cooperate with" Russia and would lead to more comprehensive sanctions on Rosatom.