EU supply agency also warns of continued dependence on Moscow for VVER nuclear fuel
About 97% of natural uranium supplied to the EU in 2022 came from overseas with deliveries from Russia decreasing by 16% as the bloc implemented efforts to reduce its dependency on Moscow.
Data in the annual report of the Euratom Supply Agency (ESA), the body responsible for the supervision of uranium supply and demand in the EU, shows that four countries provided more than 91% of all natural uranium supplied to the EU in 2022.
Kazakhstan, Niger and Canada were the top three countries delivering natural uranium, providing 74.19% of the total. Kazakhstan’s share was 26.82%, Niger’s 25.38% and Canada’s 21.99%. Russia followed, with a 16.89% share, which included natural uranium contained in enriched uranium products.
Deliveries of uranium from Australia and Russia dropped by about 82% and 16% compared to 2021.
The fall in deliveries was compensated by a strong increase in deliveries mainly from Kazakhstan and Canada, which rose by about 14% and 50%.
Other countries like Uzbekistan, South Africa, and Namibia increased their deliveries by very large margins, but from a low starting point. Uzbekistan’s total share of deliveries was just 3.76% and that of South Africa and Namibia combined, 2.23%
Natural uranium produced in Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) countries – Russia, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan – accounted for 47.47% of natural uranium delivered to EU utilities.
CIS deliveries amounted to 5,565 tonnes of uranium (tU), including re-enriched tails, which is 1.7% more by weight than 2021.
Natural uranium originating in non-CIS countries accounted for 6,159 tU, a drop of more than 5% compared with 2021.
Ukraine Invasion Disrupts Supply System
The report says the functioning of the nuclear market was profoundly affected by major geopolitical developments in Europe. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has severely disrupted the global supply system for all sources of energy and has jeopardised the EU’s security of supply for nuclear materials and services and aggravated dependence issues.
In response to the invasion, the EU decided to phase out or reduce its dependence on Russia, including in nuclear fuel supplies.
Despite the fall in natural uranium deliveries from Russia, ESA said that utilities operating Russian-designed VVER nuclear plants have been increasing their fuel stocks to tide them over until alternative fuel is available and licensed. This has led to an increase in the conversion and enrichment services delivered from Russia by 30% and 22% respectively year on year.
As regards conversion services, 37.34% of EU requirements were provided by France-based Orano Conversion, followed by Russian state nuclear corporation Rosatom (22.35%), Canada’s Cameco (21.16%), and ConverDyn (16.30%) of the US.
Sixty two percent of enrichment services to EU utilities originated in, from two EU-based companies, France’s Orano and Urenco, operating facilities in the Netherlands, Germany and the UK. The remaining services were provided by non-EU sources. Deliveries of separative work from Russia to EU utilities accounted for 30% of total deliveries.
“Dependence on a single design and supplier of fuel for VVER reactors remains a significant vulnerability to the security of supply,” the report warns.
VVER Operators Aim To Shun Russia
Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, operators of VVER plants in Europe have been looking to diversify nuclear fuel supplies away from Tvel, the fuel wing of Rosatom.
In July, a consortium led by Westinghouse was chosen by the EU to develop and deliver a “secure, fully European” nuclear fuel supply for VVER plants.
There are over 30 reactors of the VVER-440 and VVER-1000 design operating in the EU and in Ukraine.
The ESA said that in the medium and long term, EU utilities’ demand for both natural uranium and fuel fabrication and related services faces an increased risk related to the Russian supply and connected to the new geopolitical situation.
“Clear political and policy decisions at both EU and member state level are needed to address the supply vulnerabilities identified in the interests of both power and non-power uses of nuclear energy,” the report says.
The weighted average of U3O8 prices paid by EU utilities for uranium delivered under spot contracts was $55.59/lb U3O8. The weighted average of U3O8 prices paid by EU utilities for uranium delivered under multiannual contracts was 41.02/lb U3O8.
Gross electricity generation from nuclear plants in the 27 EU countries in 2022 reached 609.2 TWh, accounting for 21.5% of total production. The output of nuclear power plants was 16.7%, or 122.5 TWh, lower than in 2021.
The ESA annual report is based on information that the utilities or their procurement organisations provided in an annual survey.
A uranium mine in Kazakhstan, which provided 26.82% of the EU’s natural uranium in 2022. Courtesy Kazatomprom.