It’s not about bombs, threats or potential annihilation, but about nuclear energy. The ‘outcast that came in from the cold’ almost like a saviour in an increasingly energy starved world. But there is a problem that most of us were unaware of: Even nuclear power needs fuel. And guess what – that fuel is coming from Russia.
This little known fact admittedly took me by surprise: More than a third of the uranium keeping the world’s nuclear reactors ‘boiling’ is coming from Russia. The general perception (myself included) has been that there may be no abundance, but reasonable amounts of uranium in the world. Enough to keep us going for a few hundred years, probably more. And that modern nuclear power plants may increasingly be fed off of old nuclear waste thanks to new technology. Correct on both accounts, but it doesn’t help – as I learned from this post by Will Lockett on Medium the other day (Nuclear Power Has A Dark Secret).
Reality is that while the world supply (and reserves) of uranium are ‘good’ if not ‘big’, uranium is useless for energy (and military) purposes until it has been enriched. OK; right, we’ve heard about that – and about countries trying to get hold of the matter in order to make bombs. The picture is beginning to make sense now. But there is more: The enrichment process is complicated and requires (you guessed it) lots of energy. The other alternative – feeding reactors off of old nuclear waste – is a no-go for now. Possible but not helpful in the short term because it requires new (or rebuilt) reactors.
So it’s new uranium, fresh from the ground so to speak, that counts. Further, as it turns out, there is good (easy to enrich) and bad (costly to enrich) uranium. Russia has plenty of the good one which is why it’s delivering 35% of the world supply. Even today – despite war, sanctions etc. the US is buying $100 million worth of enriched uranium from Russia every month. That’s leverage, another heavy weapon in Putin’s hand, isn’t it?
Of course it is, and it has many people worried sick these days. Which brings me to the good news. The French – unlike most of the western world – never abandoned nuclear power. Actually, 70% of their domestic electricity generation comes from nuclear (2021), more than any other country (Ukraine is closest at 55%, Russia is at 20% – for example). Thus it comes as no surprise that the French have some serious uranium enriching capacity, located in France and in the US. Not only that, and this is the essence of the good news: Their capacity can be expanded significantly relatively fast with reasonable (aka ‘modest’) efforts. ‘Fast’ compared to any multiyear project currently being discussed in the EU and US.
It may seem like a pie in the sky, but it’s much more than that. The availability of a solution within a reasonable time frame changes the balance, politically and economically. Without this option, Putin could send another bullet into the world’s energy markets by turning off the supply of uranium, and energy prices would skyrocket (again). Instead we’re looking at increased independence, which has the exact opposite effect. That’s good news indeed, isn’t it?
Want more details? Head over to Will Lockett’s France Can Solve Nuclear Power’s Biggest Problem on Medium.com.
See also The New Energy Equation on mindset3.org.