As early as 2019, the US can introduce a quota of 25% for its nuclear power plants for the mandatory purchase of US uranium. This is required by local uranium mining companies that lost their market due to the import of cheap uranium from Russia, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. This can also damage the import of uranium enrichment services, which is an important part of Rosatom's export revenues. But there is a possibility that if a quota is introduced, local uranium in the US will not be pressed by supplies from Russia and Kazakhstan, but by more expensive raw materials from Canada and Australia.
July 17, the US Department of Commerce began an investigation, whether the dependence on imported uranium threatens national security. The investigation follows the 232nd article of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962 (it allows for the imposition of quotas or duties if there is a threat) and concerns both uranium mining and enrichment, use in defense and energy.
The initiators of the investigation were Energy Fuels and Ur-Energy - the last two companies that produce uranium in the United States. They published a petition in January, saying that since 1987 the share of their uranium in US consumption has fallen from 49% to 5%, the utilization of Energy Fuels and Ur-Energy capacities is 9% and 13% respectively. The complainants pointed out that the uranium supplies go from countries where the industry receives state support (the Russian Federation, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, China), declared risks to defense and employment, and noted that in recent years three companies in the United States have stopped production. It was also mentioned that Moscow uses energy resources as "economic and political weapons", citing, as an example, the restriction of gas supplies to Ukraine in 2009 and 2014.
As a solution to the petition, it was proposed to allocate a quota of 25% of the market to local uranium, and also oblige US government agencies to purchase uranium only from their producers. The Mintorg has 270 days to investigate, then in 90 days the US president must make a decision on the basis of the report on the necessary measures, Energy Fuels and Ur-Energy reported.
The key problem of the uranium market is the low prices for raw materials that fell after the accident at the Fukushima-1 nuclear power plant in 2011 (according to UxC, from the beginning of the year, spot quotes fluctuate at $ 20.5-23.5 per pound of nitrous oxide-uranium - U3O8). At prices, the surplus is pressing, which led to the closure of mines with a high cost, including in the US. The cheap Kazakh uranium of Kazatomprom (it failed to contact the company) and its joint venture, including Uranium One Rosatom, dominated the world market. Attempts to support prices "by the OPEC + method", reducing production, gave only short-term results.
In Tekhsnabexport (TENEX, part of Rosatom, an exporter of uranium and enrichment services), the main goal of the petition is "protection of American producers of natural uranium that is not supplied from Russia to the US". The company now "do not see a direct threat" for their interests. But in the statistics of the US Energy Information Agency (EIA), it was noted that in 2017, the supplies of Russian uranium for US nuclear power plants amounted to 7.07 million pounds of U3O8 equivalent from a total of 43 million pounds, Kazakh (here, apparently, are volumes from Uranium One, among suppliers) - 4.64 million pounds, Uzbek - 2.15 million pounds. But in general supplies for natural uranium (U3O8), which is spoken in TENEX, account for 55%, another 45% - uranium hexafluoride (UF6, in this form uranium is enriched for military purposes and for energy). The unenriched UF6, according to EIA, accounted for 27% of purchases, for enriched - 18%.
But more expensive deliveries of uranium enrichment services in the United States are an important item of Rosatom's income (until 2014, deliveries were made under a HEU-LEU agreement, and then under commercial contracts - with lower volumes but higher prices). The total volume of deliveries of TENEX uranium products abroad in 2017 is $ 1.7 billion, revenues under IFRS fell by 10%, to $ 1.9 billion, net profit by 38.5%, to $ 242.6 million.
The head of Atominfo.ru Alexander Uvarov believes that the introduction of quotas in the US is very likely, since dependence on imports of uranium is a security risk. Kommersant sources in the industry say that the quota will lead to an increase in domestic prices for uranium and create difficulties for US nuclear power plants. Mr. Uvarov also agrees that if the quotas help run the mines in the US, this will increase the uranium surplus in the world and will put pressure on prices. But, according to Kommersant's information, the situation in Rosatom does not cause much concern. While it is difficult to judge which uranium will drive local production from the US, but EIA data show that supplies from Russia and Central Asia are cheaper: the weighted average price of Russian uranium in 2017 was $ 31.54 per pound equivalent of U3O8, Canadian $ 40.63, $ 42.44.