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Europe continues to quietly import Russian nuclear energy

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Russia is a dominant player in the global nuclear market.

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Russia’s nuclear fuel industry remains visibly untouched by European sanctions more than seven months after the start of the Kremlin’s war in Ukraine, much to the dismay of Kyiv officials and environmental activists.

Despite eight rounds of sanctions, targeted measures against energy exports and Ukraine’s calls for a full embargo on nuclear trade, shipments of nuclear fuel to EU member states continue to flow from Russia.

Ariadna Rodrigo, head of EU sustainable finance at environmental group Greenpeace, told CNBC by phone that it is “absolute madness” for the bloc to continue funding the Kremlin while ignoring the nuclear fuel trade of Russia.

“If EU governments really want to stop the war, they must cut the umbilical cord of Europe’s nuclear industry in the Kremlin and instead focus on accelerating energy savings and renewables,” Rodrigo said. .

By presenting his latest sanctions package, the European Commission did not propose to target trade in Russian nuclear fuel. The executive arm of the EU has previously targeted Russian oil, gas and coal as part of a broader strategy to increase economic pressure on the Kremlin.

Hungary and Bulgaria were the most vocal in opposing sanctions on Russian uranium and other nuclear technologies last week, according to Rodrigo.

The fact that we don’t discuss it properly just shows the EU’s double standard.

Ariadna Rodrigue

EU Sustainable Finance Manager at Greenpeace

The commission has repeatedly condemned Russia’s war in Ukraine, accusing President Vladimir Putin of using energy as a weapon to drive up commodity prices and sow uncertainty in the 27-nation bloc. Moscow denies having militarized energy supplies.

The few EU bans on Russia’s nuclear energy sector that are in place, such as a port access ban for Russian-flagged vessels for the transport of nuclear fuel, contain many loopholes and Activists say much tougher measures are needed to reduce the bloc’s reliance on Russia. nuclear services.

This sentiment is shared by Kyiv.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in early August that he had spoken with European Council President Charles Michel about the need for the EU to impose sanctions on Russia’s nuclear industry.

“Russian nuclear terror demands a stronger response from the international community – sanctions against Russia’s nuclear industry and nuclear fuel,” Zelenskyy said via Twitter at the time.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy (left to right) face the press as they meet in mid-September in Kyiv, Ukraine.

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More recently, a top economic adviser to Zelenskky doubled down on that message, saying it was “extremely important to impose sanctions, not just on Russian oil.”

“Oil, gas, uranium and coal, all of this should be banned. Because they are using this money to finance this war,” Oleg Ustenko said at the end of September. according to the Associated Press.

The Russian Foreign Ministry and the Russian Embassy in London did not immediately respond to a CNBC request for comment.

Russia’s energy influence goes beyond oil and gas

In April, a European Parliament resolution called for a “immediateembargoed Russian nuclear fuel imports and urged member states to stop working with Russian nuclear giant Rosatom on existing and new projects.

But Russia is a dominant player in the global nuclear fuel market and any move to break the EU’s reliance on its services would likely be far from painless, especially with Rosatom at the heart of the dependence on Europe.

Backed by Putin, Rosatom not only dominates civilian industry, but is also in charge of Russia’s nuclear weapons arsenal and currently oversees the occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine.

The European Commission has repeatedly condemned Russia’s war in Ukraine, accusing President Vladimir Putin of using energy as a weapon to drive up commodity prices and sow uncertainty in the 27-nation bloc.

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There are 18 years old russian nuclear reactors in Europe, in countries like Finland, Slovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic. All of these reactors depend on Rosatom for the supply of nuclear fuel and other services.

Underlining the extent of Russia’s nuclear power influence in some member states, even as the assault on the Kremlin in Ukraine continues, Hungary in late August announcement the construction of two new nuclear reactors by Rosatom.

Moscow accounted for nearly a fifth (19.7%) of EU uranium imports last year, according to the latest available data from the Euratom Supply Agency. Only Niger (24.3%) and the former Soviet Republic of Kazakhstan (23%) were the bloc’s biggest uranium suppliers.

Opponents of nuclear energy march through the German town of Lingen in Lower Saxony holding placards with inscriptions such as ‘Your profit – our risk’, ‘Get out instead of in’, ‘No business with Rosatom”.

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The EU paid around 210 million euros ($203.7 million) to import raw uranium from Russia last year, according to estimates reported by Investigate Europeand an additional €245 million was paid to import uranium from Kazakhstan, where nuclear fuel extraction is controlled by Rosatom.

“We’re talking about a significant amount of money here,” Greenpeace’s Rodrigo told CNBC, noting that those estimates only accounted for uranium imports and that EU dependency covers services throughout the world. Supply Chain.

Asked about the extent to which Europe’s uranium imports from Russia are undermining his efforts to encourage others to stop importing Russian energy, Rodrigo replied: “The fact that we don’t discuss it correctly just shows the EU double standard”.

A commission spokesperson had no comment when contacted by CNBC.

How “green” is nuclear energy?

Proponents of nuclear power say it has the potential to play a major role in helping countries generate electricity while reducing carbon emissions and reducing their dependence on fossil fuels.

However, critics argue that nuclear power is an expensive and harmful distraction to faster, cheaper and cleaner alternatives. Instead, environmental campaign groups argue that technologies such as wind and solar should be prioritized in the planned shift to renewable energy sources.

As part of the EU taxonomy – a mechanism that defines which investment options can be considered “green” – the bloc has controversially recognized nuclear power and gas, a fossil fuel, as sustainable under certain circumstances.

Austria on Monday launched a lawsuit against the EU and seeks help from allies over the bloc’s labeling of nuclear power and gas as sustainable investment options, calling it ‘irresponsible and unreasonable”.

The EU has acknowledged the lawsuit but said he would not comment on the merits of the case.