US Senate passes act banning Russian uranium imports

01 May 2024

The Prohibiting Russian Uranium Imports Act, which will ban the importation into the USA of low-enriched uranium (LEU) that is produced in Russia or by a Russian entity, will now go to President Biden to be signed into law.

(Image: US Government)

As well as banning the import of Russian-produced unirradiated LEU the bill also prohibits the import of unirradiated LEU "that has been swapped for the banned uranium or otherwise obtained in a manner designed to circumvent the ban's restrictions", according to summary information from the US Senate. However, the Department of Energy (DOE) may waive the ban if it determines that "no alternative viable source of low-enriched uranium is available to sustain the continued operation of a nuclear reactor or a US nuclear energy company" or that importation of uranium is in the national interest. The amount of uranium that could be imported under such a waiver is limited, and any waivers must terminate by 1 January 2028.

The prohibition on imports of LEU would come into effect 90 days after the date of the enactment of the bill, and would terminate in 2040.

Bipartisan senators including Joe Manchin and John Barrasso, respectively chairman and ranking member of the US Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, issued a statement in which they applauded the bill's passage, which they said would strengthen US energy security as well as boosting its nuclear sector. "Our bipartisan legislation will help defund Russia’s war machine, revive American uranium production, and jumpstart investments in America’s nuclear fuel supply chain," Barrasso said, while Manchin added that it "simultaneously unlocks USD2.72 billion to ramp up domestic uranium fuel production".

Ukrainian nuclear operator Energoatom has ended any use of Russian nuclear fuel since the start of the war in 2022, and has said it ultimately aims to create a complete nuclear fuel cycle in the country. Minister of Energy Herman Halushchenko described the US Senate's "historic decision" as a "decisive step towards sanctions against Russia".

US uranium producer Energy Fuels Inc responded to the announcement saying on X: "We stand ready to help supply the #nuclear market with responsibly produced US #uranium."

Amir Adnani, president and CEO of US uranium producer Uranium Energy Corp (UEC), said the bill will strengthen US energy and national security, and end an "untenable reliance" on Russian uranium imports. "This new law, in conjunction with the recently passed Nuclear Fuel Security Act, creates a firm foundation for long-term growth of the US uranium industry to supply the fuel that powers American households, data centres, and industrial base with clean baseload power," he said. UEC is working towards restarting uranium production at its operation in Wyoming in August, followed by the resumption its operations in Texas in 2025.

Maria Korsnick, president and CEO of the Nuclear Energy Institute, said: "A ban on Russian uranium imports is needed to release the USD2.72 billion included in recent appropriations to revitalise a competitive domestic enrichment and conversion capability. It will take many years to build US capacity to serve the existing fleet and the deployment of next generation nuclear. The implementation of a meaningful programme to support capacity building is critical.

"NEI and our members have been working to create a path to a reliable, secure domestic supply of fuel for more than two years, following Russia's invasion of Ukraine. We will continue to work with the Department of Energy on the design of an effective programme to spur expansion of US capabilities as well as a predictable and efficient waiver process."

Researched and written by World Nuclear News