Biden’s energy ban on Russia omits uranium to avoid blackouts across US

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
A tray of uranium pellets. (Bloomberg Photo)

US President Joe Biden signed an executive order on Tuesday, slapping an immediate ban on Russian oil and other energy imports over Moscow’s military operation in Ukraine.

Russian oil, Biden asserted, will “no longer be acceptable at US ports” and that Americans will “deal another powerful blow to Putin’s war machine”.

Russia is the world’s leading exporter of crude and oil products, producing about 7 million barrels per day (BPD), or 7 percent of global supply.

While the order has sent shockwaves across the world, threatening to disrupt the global energy supplies, the Biden administration has made sure the move does not affect the United States.

According to a report in Reuters, US imports of Russian uranium won’t be affected by the ban.

The text of the executive order signed by the US president omits uranium in its list of banned Russian energy products.

Russia produces about 35% of the world’s enriched uranium for reactors, about twice as much as the No. 2 provider, and supplies about 20% of the US industry, Bloomberg cites UxC LLC, a nuclear industry researcher, as saying.

A report in Sputnik said nuclear power plants account for about 8.9 percent of US energy needs, but the country has no active uranium production or processing facilities, which makes it dependent on imports.

According to data from the US Energy Information Administration, 46 percent of uranium consumed by 56 nuclear power plants in the US is imported from Russia and its neighbors, with 22 percent coming from Canada, 11 percent from Australia, and five percent from Namibia.

The US purchased about 10.2 million kg of uranium from Russia, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan in 2020. 

Last week, the US media said that the National Energy Institute, a group of US nuclear power generation companies, had lobbied with the White House to exempt Russian uranium deliveries from sanctions, fearing a surge in electricity prices.

“The [US nuclear] industry is just addicted to cheap Russian uranium,” Reuters quoted a source who knew about the lobbying as saying last week.

The US has been dependent on imports of uranium from Russia since the early 1990s.

Russia’s uranium production is controlled by Rosatom, a state-run company formed by Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2007, according to a report in SCMP.

“The company is an important source of revenue for Putin government, and exempting US uranium imports is likely to fuel continued questions about how American businesses are financially supporting Russia’s economy,” said the report.

The US Congress has paid increased attention to Russia’s growing reputation as a global producer of uranium and other metals.

“We need to look at alternative sources (for uranium), including in the United States,” Senator Dan Sullivan, an Alaska Republican, was quoted as saying by Reuters on the sidelines of the CERAWeek energy conference in Houston this week.

Moscow has criticized the US decision to impose a ban on energy imports, warning that it could have global repercussions.

“The US sanctions pressure on Russia has long crossed all the boundaries of political and economic sense,” the Russian embassy in Washington wrote on its Facebook page.

“As usual, the United States does not give a thought to the fact that restrictions are always a double-edged weapon,” it said.

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