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Thursday, June 14, 2007

Uranium: Russia's Achilles Heel

Two items from the blogosphere document Russia's Achilles Heel on energy: Uranium, to fuel its vital nuclear power plants. Siberian Light reports:

Russia doesn’t mine anywhere near enough uranium to fuel all its nuclear reactors (military or civilian) or to cover the massive amount of uranium it has agreed to export to other countries.

Take a look at these numbers from 2000:

  • 3,260 tonnes: Uranium mined in Russia
  • 8,000 tonnes: Uranium used in Russian reactors
  • 16,000 tonnes: Uranium exported abroad

Although production is on the increase, Russia used or exported seven times as much uranium as it was able to produce in 2000. The only way that Russia can fuel its nuclear reactors, and meet its export obligations is to dip into its steadily diminishing stockpile of uranium, which currently stands at around a half a million tonnes. At the current rate of depletion, Russia’s uranium stockpile will be gone entirely in little more than 20 years.

Taking the baton, the Russia blogosphere's most prominent member Robert Amsterdam has been quick to pressure the Australians to do the right thing as they are pressed to fill Russia's shortfall, as National Nine News reports:

An international human rights lawyer is calling on the Australian government to impose strict conditions on a new uranium deal with Russia and condemn the country's human rights abuses. Canadian lawyer Robert Amsterdam is in Australia to hold talks with government officials about their role in dealing with what he says is the departure from the rule of law in Russia. Mr Amsterdam is defence lawyer for one of the world's highest-profile political prisoners, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the former chief executive of Russian oil giant Yukos. Mr Amsterdam said Mr Khodorkovsky has been jailed because of his vocal opposition to the President Vladimir Putin's regime and his support for pro-democracy parties and organisations. Since his arrest by the secret police and deportation in 2005, on the last day of his client's appeal, Mr Amsterdam has set out to inform the world about the actions of the Russian government, which he says is rapidly moving towards authoritarianism.

"One of the things I swore to myself when I was being deported was not to remain silent about not only the trial that I had been (involved) with but what I had witnessed," Mr Amsterdam told AAP. He said that included colleagues jailed, murdered and disbarred, and his clients' illegal incarceration and stabbing because of their opposition to the Russian regime.

Mr Amsterdam said Australia had a role to play in addressing the situation in Russia, including ensuring that a new uranium deal with Russia was tied to a condition of improving democracy. In April, Foreign Minister Alexander Downer revealed the government may expand its uranium deal with Russia, allowing Australian producers to supply Russia's nuclear power industry. "In respect of the uranium deal (Australia should impose) conditionality, in other words, making sure that the Kremlin's control of this uranium is conditional on an improvement of the democratic situation in Russia," Mr Amsterdam said. Mr Amsterdam said public condemnation of Russia's behaviour by the federal government would also help. "Even the simple pronouncement of what's going on in Russia by responsible members of the government dramatically helps the situation in Russia," he said. "It is the silence of the west and the complicity of some of our business community ... that is to some significant extent also complicit in what's going on in Russia today." He said Australia should care about the actions of the Russian government because Russia is a major nuclear power, and it's one of Australia's only resources and commodities competitors.

On top of that, he said, Australia has an obligation as a signatory to the UN charter on civil and political rights. "Mr Putin will be coming to the APEC meeting and I think it's important for people to understand that Russia's departure from the rule of law and Russia's move away from a free market in terms of energy has long term implications to the future of Australia," he said. "Russia has declared an energy war on four or five of the governments of Europe just recently, they've declared cyber war on Estonia, and last week they threatened Europe with re-targeting missiles. "You simply can't close your eyes to what's happening to human rights in Russia and carry on as if business is usual."

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

This article is sadly deceptive. Lightwater nuclear reactors can only use uranium isotope 235 which is found in limited quantities in the world. Breeder reactors can use Uranium 238 of which there are billions of tons.

La Russophobe said...

This comment is sadly deceptive, and even more sadly utterly unsourced.

Russia is buying uranium because it needs and doesn't have it, you ape, and there is not one word about lightwater or breeder reactors in the text. In other words, you're babbling gibberish that nobody but you understands, and you don't even have the initiative to think up a name.

Red Exile / Красная Ссылка said...

Kyrgyzstan.

Uranium - and indeed gold - is to Kyrgyzstan what oil and gas are to Russia.

(see CIA World Factbook entry on KYR)

Kyrgyzstan is extraordinarily rich in 'rare earth' minerals, as they are known, as well as Uranium which does, in fact, come in different grades (http://www.gold-eagle.com/editorials_05/casey082605.html). That said the grading refers to the amount of Uranium per quantity of ore, not what it can be used for, which is about the enrichment process (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enriched_uranium)

I beleive that KYR stopped Uranium exports - something about World Bank loans conditional on cleaning up USSR-era uranium slag heaps - but now plans to re-start, assuming plans to privatize its Uranium mines proceed as envisaged.

Kazakhstan also has large Uranium deposits and is a very big exporter (http://www.uxc.com/fuelcycle/uranium/production-uranium.html). One would expect KYR to re-enter that league table for 2007.

The picture is a tad complicated by the fact, one hears, that KYR Uranium and other mineral resources sites are likely to be privatized through KAZ holding companies - the economies, at an international trading level, are quite interwoven and corporate assets held quite opaque. I learned this after some client business in KYR and KAZ last summer.

A 'western' firm in this business is Urasia Energy (http://www.urasiaenergy.com)

Anonymous said...

Other commenters - don't confuse him/her/them with the facts, if Russia has to import uranium like dozens of other countries, than it is clearly doomed, and Russia's breeder reactors must not exist if we can't find photos of them on Google in English in one second. And all those oil and gas executives that were at the St. Petersburg Economic Forum? Clearly masochists who enjoy getting ripped off - Western politicians and bloggers know much better than they do about whether they should invest in Russia.

elmer said...

Thank goodness for informed people like red exile.

And what a difference between the typical russkie blowing smoke for the Glory of Vlad Dracul Putin, and someone who is informed and knows the topic.