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New Russian uranium suspension agreement takes effect, says Commerce

Washington — A proposal to extend the Russian suspension agreement to 2040, and reduce Russian uranium imports from 20% to 17% of US reactor requirements on average, was finalized Oct. 5, the US Department of Commerce said in a statement Oct. 6.

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Commerce and Russian state-owned nuclear company Rosatom signed the new agreement Oct. 5, Commerce said. The new agreement is unchanged from a Sept. 11 proposal, the statement said.

Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross said in the statement, "This landmark agreement will contribute to the revitalization of American nuclear industry, while promoting America's long-term strategic interests."

The suspension agreement had since 2008 limited Russian uranium imports to 20% of US reactor enrichment needs, calculated in separative work units, or SWU. It would have expired Dec. 31 if the proposal had not been finalized.

The agreement was established in 1992, when it was signed by the US and Russia after Commerce suspended an anti-dumping investigation.

According to the new agreement, the amount of Russian enriched uranium that could be sold to US utilities would rise to 24% in 2021, decrease to 20% in 2022, increase again to 24% in 2023, then remain at 20% through 2027.

The higher limits between 2021 and 2027 will accommodate, or grandfather, contracts signed by US utilities with Tenex, Rosatom 's commercial enrichment marketer, before February 2019, when Commerce began negotiations with Russia over extending the agreement, the statement said.

The overall amount of Russian uranium material and SWU that could be imported would fall beginning in 2028, when the quota declines from 20% to 15%, where it will remain until the agreement expires, the new agreement said.

Commerce said in the statement such reductions would "enable the U.S. commercial enrichment industry to compete on fair terms."

The extension will also establish "unprecedented protections for U.S. uranium miners" and US uranium converter Honeywell, which owns the Metropolis conversion plant in Illinois, Commerce said.

That is because the new agreement closes a loophole in the previous agreement that allowed Russia to use the 20% quota to sell natural uranium and conversion, in addition to enrichment, the statement said.

Now, under the new agreement, however, such Russian uranium imports are limited to roughly 7% of US reactor enrichment requirements on average, and no higher higher than 5% starting in 2026, Commerce said.