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US may need to find new sources of uranium

May 7

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Russia is the world’s largest producer of enriched uranium, presenting a problem for U.S. supply chains as Western sanctions against Russia continue to escalate in response to Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. In addition to uranium’s use in nuclear weapons, nuclear power provides around 20% of domestic American energy.

Straight Arrow News contributor Peter Zeihan explains how the United States got into this situation and what needs to be done in order to guarantee a continuous supply of uranium and nuclear power.

The following is an excerpt from Peter’s May 7 “Zeihan on Geopolitics” newsletter:

We’re finally seeing signs of life in Congress with the recent progress made on the establishment of a domestic uranium supply chain. This move aims to cut dependence on the Russians — who dominate global uranium processing.

This will be easier said than done though. Much of the nuclear infrastructure in the U.S. is outdated and will need to be modernized in order to ensure a steady fuel supply. We’ll likely have to call in some favors from others who are already in the process of developing their own domestic supply system, like Canada and Australia.

This new development coming out of Congress is a step in the right direction and begins to address two major concerns facing the U.S.: energy and national security.

Hey everybody, Peter Zeihan coming to you from Colorado. The news at the moment is that late last week, we finally got the first functional laws through committee, and actually getting action on the the congressional floors for building out a domestic uranium supply chain system. The idea is that if we can, refilling enough fuel enrichment of fuel will be in the technical term, we will be able to cut the Russians out of the mix. It’s altogether, the Russians are the world’s single largest producer of enriched uranium. And they are responsible for nearly half of the global market and about one quarter of ours. The process is you take raw uranium from somewhere with Kazakhstan being the single biggest player and the Australians being being the biggest up and comers, you then it spin it up, so that the fissile component makes up somewhere between three and five and a half percent of the mix, and you take that enriched uranium and build it into a fuel rod that eventually ends up in a nuclear power reactor. The issue that we have is peace. Ironically, at the end of the Cold War, the Americans and the Russians were left with literally 10s of 1000s of nuclear weapons, and we collectively decided that we were going to get rid of them. So the question was, what do you do with all the enriched uranium that isn’t a bomb. Now, the enriched uranium that’s at a bomb isn’t three to 6% enriched, it’s like 90 to 95% enriched because you want it to go kaboom. And so we basically spent that stuff down instead of up and used it to make fuel rods going from the other direction. Well, you do that for 25 years, which is what it took to get rid of all those weapons. And there really wasn’t much of an economic impetus for any company in the United States to do the the more normal type of, of enrichment up from uranium or so we basically stopped doing it altogether. In the United States, it was only in places like Russia or China where as a national security issue, to build the stuff up, where they kept producing it. And so now we have to rebuild that enrichment system at the civilian level. And that’s what these new laws are about. Now, right now, nuclear power provides about 20% of the American electricity mix. I think we’ve got 95 reactors out right there. Right now, the issue is we there’s only so much flexibility in that system. Because with a couple of exceptions, all of these reactors are more than 40 years old, most of them are 50 years old, actually.

 

Three Mile Island was at 1973 and a half and seven, and I can’t remember anyway, they all predate Three Mile Island, except with two exceptions. So the idea that you can really update these things to more modern technology. And there’s not a lot of modern technology to do. So we have to go back to the old system to keep these online. On the upside. Everyone has seen this coming and they’ve been stockpiling for some time. So we probably have about two years of fuel supply here in the United States for a reactor system. And that should be plenty of time to basically replicate technology that dates back to the 50s in order to build a domestic flip supply system. And we’ll also be getting some help from the Canadians and the Australians who are in the process of building up their own system for very similar reasons. So this Congress, while has been difficult for to do, anything has seemingly found an issue that is both energy related and national security related and seems to be actually progressing forward. So you know, one miracle at a time, but I take my good news where I can’t these days. Take care.

 

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