A group of four US senators introduced a bill on March 16 to ban imports of uranium products from the Russian Federation. If enacted, such a ban could complicate the refueling of existing commercial reactors in the United States that rely on Russian uranium products. A ban also could extend the schedule in the United States for deploying some advanced reactors, because Russia is a key source of the high-assay, low enriched uranium (HALEU) they plan to use. In a related development, Russia is considering a ban on uranium exports to the United States in retaliation for the most recent energy sanctions on Russia.
In the US Senate, Senator John Barrasso (R-WY) introduced the bill, S. 3856, which currently has four co-sponsors: Cynthia Lummis (R-WY), Roger Marshall (R-KS), John Hoeven (R-ND), and Kevin Cramer (R-ND). If enacted, the bill would ban the imports of Russian-origin uranium products listed in specific sections of the Harmonized Tariff Schedule (HTS), as follows:
- Uranium ores and concentrates (HTS subheading 2612.10)
- Natural uranium, uranium metal, and uranium compounds, including uranium oxides and uranium hexafluorides (HTS subheading 2844.10)
- Enriched uranium, enriched uranium metal, and enriched uranium compounds, including oxides and fluorides containing enriched uranium (HTS subheading 2844.20)
- Depleted uranium and compounds containing depleted uranium (HTS subheading 2844.30)
The bill would ban the imports of these products and uranium products entered into or withdrawn from a customs warehouse at port facilities—where goods can be held for up to five years without paying duties or tariffs until they are withdrawn—45 days after enactment. This means that Russian uranium products that have already been withdrawn from such a warehouse and on which duties and tariffs have been paid would not be covered and could still be used. The bill was referred to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, where Senator Barrasso is the ranking member.
In Russia, Russian Deputy Prime-Minister Alexander Novak (who was the Russian energy minister until 2020) reported to the State Duma on March 21 that the Russian government is considering a ban on exports of uranium to the United States in retaliation for the most recent energy sanctions on Russia. No details are available yet on those potential Russian sanctions.
Russia is a supplier of both uranium products and uranium enrichment services to the United States. According to the Energy Information Administration, Russia is the third largest source of US uranium, supplying roughly 16% of all uranium purchased by US power reactors in 2020. As for enrichment services, under a Suspension Agreement most recently extended in October 2020, Russia is limited to enriching up to 20% of the uranium used to fuel US reactors. The amount of enrichment services that Russia can provide under the Suspension Agreement, including providing enrichment services for both its own natural uranium metal and ores as well as those mined in other countries, decreases over the coming years. Although the effects of a ban on Russian uranium feedstock could be blunted in the short term by reserves of uranium hexafluoride held by the US Department of Energy and International Atomic Energy Agency, it may be harder and take longer to replace the loss of Russian enrichment services if enrichment facilities need to be expanded or restarted and face technical and/or regulatory delays.
While any ban on Russian uranium or Russia’s proposed embargo could result in supply disruptions in the long term, existing stores of uranium products for which title has passed to a non-Russian entity could likely be accessed under the language in the proposed bill.
Morgan Lewis counsels nuclear fuel cycle facilities and nuclear reactor owners on fuel supply contracts and related commercial and regulatory issues and will continue to closely follow developments in this area.