The House Energy and Commerce Committee May 24 voted to send legislation that would ban imports of Russian-enriched uranium that have not received a waiver through 2027, and prohibit them after that, to the House floor.
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The Prohibiting Russian Uranium Imports Act was approved 29-21 during a committee hearing in which 18 other pieces of legislation, including health and energy bills, were considered.
The US is "dangerously reliant upon Russia's supply of nuclear fuels for our existing nuclear power plant fleet," said committee chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a Washington state Republican, in a statement May 24. The affirmative vote "sends a strong signal to the market that will help restore American nuclear leadership and fuel infrastructure," said Rodgers, who sponsored the bill.
The legislation and a parallel bill passed by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee May 16 go to the full chambers of each house, but it is unclear when and if they will receive a vote. Analysts at research company Clearview Energy Partners said in a note May 17 that the provisions in the bills could potentially be attached to must-pass legislation in the coming months but may not come into force until 2024.
The House bill would ban US imports of enriched uranium produced in Russia within 90 days of enactment. However it would permit the US Department of Energy to issue waivers if there is no alternate supplier available to a US nuclear plant and the import is determined to be in the national interest.
Waivers would be permitted, but the total amounts brought in under waiver in a given year would be capped and no waivers would be allowed after 2027, according to the bill language.
The maximum amount of enriched uranium imported from Russia would be capped at 578,900 kgU in 2023 and then drop each subsequent year until it reached 459,000 kgU in 2027.
US nuclear plant operators rely on Russian enrichment for more than 20% of their reactor needs, although many have said they are seeking to end that reliance as soon as possible. Western suppliers of uranium conversion and enrichment have said they are planning capacity increases, but that such increases will take several years.
Ranking Democratic Committee Member Frank Pallone of New Jersey said he opposed the legislation because it did not include funding for more domestic conversion and enrichment along with the ban.
"[M]y staff requested that any Russian uranium ban also include investments in domestic fuel cycle infrastructure, but we were told that was not on the table, and therefore I will oppose this bill," he said in his prepared opening remarks at the hearing.