The Platform

Yellow cake uranium. (Nuclear Regulatory Commission)

Here are some likely scenarios should the United States ban the import of Russian uranium.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers in the U.S. Senate is making another push to ban Russian uranium.

The ban, which has received overwhelming bipartisan support, comes as part of a broader effort to reduce reliance on Russian uranium. Historically, the U.S. nuclear industry has heavily depended on uranium imports from Russia, making it vulnerable to supply disruptions and geopolitical risks. The ban aims to safeguard national security interests by diversifying sources of uranium and promoting domestic production.

In February, Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia, John Barrasso of Wyoming, and Jim Risch of Indiana introduced the Nuclear Fuel Security Act (NFSA), which will allocate billions of dollars to increase the production, conversion, enrichment, and reconversion of uranium in the United States, the construction of new HALEU-type reactors, as well as the deepening of cooperation with U.S. allies.

This decision is a response to the ongoing war in Ukraine. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has drawn international condemnation, leading to sanctions on various Russian entities. Rosatom, Russia’s state-owned nuclear power company, provides the Russian military with components, technologies, and raw materials for Moscow to continue its war in Ukraine. According to the U.S. State Department’s Anthony Musa, it is necessary to make cardinal decisions on imposing direct sanctions on Rosatom itself. And while the United States hasn’t sanctioned Rosatom directly, it has targeted Rosatom subsidiaries.

The G7 countries, comprising some of the world’s largest economies, have also recognized the need to reduce their dependence on Russian energy sources. In response to Russia’s war in Ukraine, G7 countries have been actively diversifying their energy portfolios, focusing on renewable energy, natural gas imports, and uranium from alternative sources. This move not only helps decrease their reliance on Russian energy but also enhances their own energy security and strengthens their geopolitical position.

Considering the increased risks of falling under secondary sanctions targeting Russia and its ability to continue its war in Ukraine, Central Asian countries like Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan should think twice before increasing cooperation with Russia.

Amidst these developments, neighboring Kazakhstan is well-positioned to benefit from Russian sanctions. Kazakhstan is the world’s leading uranium producer and holds substantial reserves of the mineral. With the U.S. considering a ban on Russian uranium imports, Kazakhstan’s role in the global uranium market is expected to grow significantly. The country has the opportunity to attract new investments, expand its production capabilities, and solidify its position as a key player in the nuclear fuel industry.

Furthermore, potential sanctions on Rosatom have prompted Kazakhstan to invest heavily in its domestic nuclear energy capabilities. Recognizing the potential of nuclear energy to meet its growing power needs and reduce reliance on fossil fuels, Astana has embarked on an ambitious plan to develop its nuclear power sector. This move not only ensures energy security but also offers prospects for sustainable economic growth and reduced carbon emissions.

Another significant advantage resulting from the potential sanctions on Rosatom is the diversification of Kazakhstan’s economic landscape. Historically reliant on oil and gas exports, the country is now expanding its focus to other sectors, including renewable energy and high-tech industries. The government has implemented policies to attract foreign investors and nurture domestic startups, promoting innovation and technological advancements. This diversification not only reduces Kazakhstan’s dependence on a single industry but also ensures a more sustainable and resilient economy in the face of changing global dynamics.

Ultimately, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan need to reconsider whether it is worth allowing Rosatom to expand its activities in their respective countries because of reputational damage and whether Russia is worth the headache.

Theo Casablanca is a blogger who lives in Brasília.