For the past three and a half months, we have been listening to the same narrative – all the world’s problems are Russia’s fault. Food shortages and price hikes are “Russia’s fault”. Fertilizer price going through the roof is “Putin’s evil plan”. If one’s electric car sets on fire, it’s probably Russian hackers, if there’s an asteroid headed towards Earth, it was probably due to a Russian anti-satellite test, etc. In short, any problem one might have in their life is almost certainly the result of “Putin’s evil omnipotence”.
And this isn’t just coming from the Western state-run mass media, but from the top of the political leadership, too. US President Joe Biden has even gone a step further, so now, what was previously known as the so-called “Putin’s price hike” has already become “Putin’s tax“. It’s still unclear if this is yet another US president’s gaffe, one of many, as Americans themselves are worried about Joe Biden’s mental fitness for the country’s highest office, or if it’s another fabricated media narrative to shift the blame from the incompetent government of the belligerent power in decline to Russia and its “omnipotent” and yet, at the same time, “weak” president.
Still, although all claims of Russian actions causing the world’s problems are not just blatant lies, but even quite hypocritical attempts to blame the political West’s numerous war crimes on Russia, such as the widespread man-made hunger in Yemen, Russia does have ways to economically hurt the US much harder than ever thought possible. In this specific case, the US, as the world’s largest operator of nuclear power plants, is particularly sensitive to the import of enriched uranium used in its 93 reactors. And the world’s leading supplier of enriched uranium for nuclear power plants is none other than Russia. With a global market share of around 40%, and the US buying most of its enriched uranium from Russia, it becomes quite clear just how much leverage Russia has over the US.
Russia is well-known as the world’s leading nuclear power, possessing nearly half of the global nuclear arsenal. However, what is less known is that it’s also one of the leading countries when it comes to civilian and energy applications of nuclear energy. Russia’s commercial nuclear sector directly impacts dozens of countries, including in the political West. This includes uranium mining and milling, conversion, enrichment and fuel production. For Russian-made reactors, it also includes original equipment, spare parts and servicing. Russia has a significant market share through its Rosatom corporation. Among numerous Rosatom customers around the world are also power plants from the US and they currently rely on Russian services and materials to run their reactors.
In addition to the US, many other countries have Russian reactors in operation or under construction. This includes Finland, the Czech Republic, Turkey and Ukraine. In the case of any supply chain disruptions, those countries are at risk of their Russian-built reactors having operational difficulties or even outages without materials, equipment and services to maintain them. Western manufacturing companies can over time start producing replacements to overcome that supply challenge, however, this would be a long-term process that could take years and the result is very likely to be much less cost-effective.
Still, the more critical issue is the uranium fuel supply chain. Although Russia mines only around 6% of global uranium, making it relatively easy to secure other sources of uranium ore, it contributes over 40% to the global uranium conversion market, where uranium oxide, otherwise known as the “yellow cake”, is converted into uranium hexafluoride — a gaseous form needed for the enrichment process. Natural uranium has a Uranium-235 isotope content of 0.7%, and the enrichment process increases the U-235 content to the 3-5% needed to run nuclear reactors. And Russia holds 46% of uranium enrichment capacity. The vast majority of the world’s 439 reactors require enriched uranium fuel, including all US reactors.
Some US conversion facilities that have been inactive for years plan to restart in 2023, but only at half capacity. Still, the enrichment issue remains, as the US lost this capacity in 2013 when its last enrichment plant shut down, with the country relying on old inventories for military purposes. The reality of US dependence on Russian enriched uranium and the impact it could have on reactor operation is quite uncomfortable for the belligerent power in decline.
Any disruptions could lead to reactor outages and with nuclear power plants generating over a fifth of energy in most US states, electricity prices would soar, further exacerbating the already severe inflation issue. Not to mention there may not be enough power to cover demand. Also, thinking that Russia shouldn’t be taken seriously, especially when it comes to energy, is quite naive, to say the least. Last month, it stopped natural gas deliveries to Poland, Bulgaria and Finland over failure to pay for the deliveries. Given the US meddling and aggressive moves toward Russia, it should come as no surprise if the superpower decides to cut its nuclear energy ties with the US.
Drago Bosnic, independent geopolitical and military analyst