Back when we first started waging economic warfare on Russia following the invasion of Ukraine, we slapped all manner of sanctions on Moscow and various Russian businesses and oligarchs. (Unless they had business ties with Hunter and Joe Biden, of course.) There were sanctions on Russian oil, vodka, caviar, and many other exports. But there was one product that conveniently didn’t get any sanctions. That would be uranium. Why? Because we use a lot of uranium for a variety of things, particularly in our nuclear reactors, and we didn’t want to upset the apple cart. Russia is a major exporter of Uranium, although Kazakhstan is far and away the biggest exporter, so dealing with Kazakhstan is basically just dealing with Russia and the difference is subtle.
So why does this matter? Because with the U.S. and much of Europe importing so much of their uranium from the Russians, Vladimir Putin has a very powerful card to play should he decide to use it. Much the same way that China controls too much of the technology supply chain, Putin could wreak havoc on our nuclear energy industry simply by shutting off the flow. And our energy grid is already teetering on the edge of collapse at times. (Associated Press)
The U.S. and its European allies are importing vast amounts of nuclear fuel and compounds from Russia, providing Moscow with hundreds of millions of dollars in badly needed revenue as it wages war on Ukraine.
The sales, which are legal and unsanctioned, have raised alarms from nonproliferation experts and elected officials who say the imports are helping to bankroll the development of Moscow’s nuclear arsenal and are complicating efforts to curtail Russia’s war-making abilities. The dependence on Russian nuclear products — used mostly to fuel civilian reactors — leaves the U.S. and its allies open to energy shortages if Russian President Vladimir Putin were to cut off supplies.
This tune will likely sound familiar to those of you who have been following the energy sector news on this site for a while. As we’ve discussed repeatedly, the United States has vast reserves of oil and natural gas. That’s why it’s so galling to see domestic production shutting down, leaving us to buy oil from places like Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. But do you know what else America has a lot of? Uranium.
The problem is that we still don’t mine nearly enough of it. And the possibility of doing more of that just decreased dramatically. You may recall that Joe Biden just declared a huge swath of land near the Grand Canyon to be a national monument. Well, that land includes a big percentage of our uranium reserves. And now they’re not going to be able to be mined.
America has enough resources to take care of its own needs in many areas. So how is it that we keep hamstringing ourselves, forcing us to rely on others for the resources we require? Of all the people in the world, why would we want Vladimir Putin holding the leash on our uranium supplies? More and more countries are making the switch to nuclear power, though the United States still lags behind in new reactor construction. There are now 60 reactors under construction around the world and 300 more are in the planning stages. Some are doing it because nuclear energy doesn’t produce carbon emissions. Others just need the energy and have fewer natural resources of their own.
The United States could be a global leader in this field just as we used to be in oil and gas production. We could be sitting at the top of that supply chain. But instead, we’re going to leave Russia and Kazakhstan in the cat bird’s seat. Under the Biden administration, we have a domestic energy policy that frankly appears suicidal. We need some smart people in charge who know how to make better deals and we need them quickly.