Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Europe's Uranium Vulnerability - Another Unintended Consequence of Sanctioning Russia

Europe has come to the sudden realization that it is highly susceptible to the cessation of the transmission of Russia's seemingly endless reserves of natural gas.  As such, politicians in Europe are looking for alternate sources of energy, one of which is nuclear power which relies on uranium as its feedstock.  Let's look at how reliant Europe is on Russia for its supply of uranium.


As background, let's look at Europe's nuclear fleet.  Here is a graphic from Eurostat showing how reliant the major European economies are on nuclear power:



In 2020, nuclear power plants generated approximately 24.6 percent of the total energy produced in the European Union.


Here is a table showing gross nuclear electricity production in five-year periods from 1990 to 2020:


By 2020, Europe was somewhat less reliant on nuclear as a source of electricity with total production falling from a high of 928.4 gigawatt-hours in 2005 to its current level of 683 gigawatt-hours.  France is the most reliant on nuclear electricity, accounting for 51.8 percent of the EU total followed by Germany with accounting for 9.4 percent of the EU total.  Germany's reduction in the use of nuclear energy since 2006 accounts for most of the drop in the EU's total nuclear energy use.


Here is a graphic showing gross nuclear energy production for the five highest nuclear electricity producing nations over the period from 1990 to 2020 which clearly shows the drop in Germany's use of nuclear power generation:


Here is a list of the six nations which increased their use of nuclear power generation:


Romania - up 103.6 percent


Hungary - up 19.3 percent


Netherlands - up 17.8 percent


Czechia - up 15.3 percent


Slovenia - up 1.7 percent


Here is a list of the seven nations which decreased their use of nuclear power generation:


Germany - down 61.5 percent


Sweden - down 26.5 percent


Belgium - down 26.2 percent


France - down 21.4 percent


Bulgaria - down 14.7 percent


Slovakia - down 14.3 percent


Spain - down 3.0 percent


Let's look at where the European Union sources its uranium.  A total of 22 percent of the world's uranium is found in the BRICS nations with 44 percent being found in OECD nations.  Here is a pie chart showing the supply sources (in percent) for 2020:


As it currently stands, Russia supplies just over one-fifth of Europe's uranium needs, the second largest supplier after Niger.  Domestic uranium production in Europe remains very low with 95 percent of Europe's uranium requirements being sourced from outside the EU.  Acquiring uranium itself is not the only problem that Europe faces; uranium must be enriched from 0.7 percent to between 3 percent and 5 percent before it can be used in most reactors other than Canada's CANDU reactors.  According to the World Nuclear Association, Russia has the biggest uranium enrichment capacity in the world, supplying 35 percent of the world's supply.  In addition, 18 out of 103 of the nuclear reactors in Europe are Russian designed; these reactors are found in Bulgaria, Finland (two), Hungary (four), Slovakia (four) and Czechia (six).  As an aside, Ukraine which is not part of the EU has 15 operable Russian-designed nuclear reactors at four plants that generate about half of Ukraine's electricity requirements as shown on this map:


While Europe could source its uranium requirements from other nations, it is highly vulnerable to a cessation of uranium/enriched uranium from Russia.  A reduction in reliance on Russia's uranium could prove to be beneficial to Kazakhstan, the world's largest producer of uranium, however, that could even prove to be problematic since most of Kazakhstan's uranium exports travel to Europe through Russia and, as shown on this graphic, Russia is a joint venture partner in some of Kazakhstan's uranium mining operations:


Once again, Europe is caught in an energy nightmare of its own making, an unintended consequence of sanctioning Russia for its moves into Ukraine.

1 comment:

  1. IIRC, the USA explicitly exempted uranium from its list of sanctions against Russia. It may not be just the EU that is in a bind.

    Did any "decision maker", using the term loosely, in the EU or NATO actually give 5 minutes thought to what these sanctions would do to their economies or the political stability of much of the world? Watch Egypt for bread riots soon.

    Back in the 1970's when Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau brought in the National Energy Program, that was hated by Alberta the Alberta slogan was something along the lines of "Let the B%%$#'s back East freeze in the dark".

    It looks like the EU is taking this one step further and saying "Let's help our own people freeze in the dark".