Orano sprint will replace Russian enriched uranium, especially in the United States

The war in Ukraine has by no means finished subverting the geopolitics of energy. And for good reason, it’s not just Russian gas supplies that are at risk of decline in Europe: enriched uranium, the fuel needed to run nuclear power plants, is also involved in a major conflict rocking the Old Continent.

Because in this critical segment, Russia still represents almost a third of Western supplies. Therefore, those exposed to possible treaty violations by Moscow are forcing some to leave as soon as possible, especially from the Atlantic.

New market prospects

What opens up new markets for Orano (formerly Areva), a French company specializing in the management of nuclear fuels. The tricolor company, which is a competitor of the Russian company “Rosatom” on uranium enrichment, intends to use the opportunity to increase the production capacity in this area by 30% at its site in the city of Tricastin (Drôme). The goal: to supply electricians looking for a new supplier from 2028 before turning to another major enriched uranium exporter, as well as Anglo-German-Dutch Urenco, which is working on a possible expansion program.

From February 1st to April 9th, everyone will be invited to comment on the Tricastin Enrichment Expansion Project as part of the National Commission for Public Debate before it starts.” bought in the ideal year “, we explain at Orano. We will be talking about the reproduction of the same part of the current plant, which was put into operation in 2011, where it is centrifuged to increase the content of natural uranium in the form of gas, which is not suitable for use in power plants. The isotope that allows fission in U235. in nuclear reactors process. And this is estimated at a total cost of between 1.3 and 1.7 billion euros.

The site allocated for the construction of the enrichment capacity expansion has already been selected by Orano as an extension of its current plant.

Capture US customers

The investment is certainly huge, but if Orano is to be believed, the game is worth the effort. Because the tricolor company could thereby capture almost half of the new Western demand for enriched uranium due to the decline in the share of the Russian market. It’s really predictable 5 to 8 million separation work units (SWU) per year. “, or equivalent to supplying electricity to 50-90 million homes. However, the extension of the Tricastin plant will allow Orano to increase its enriched uranium production by 3.5 million SWU from the end of the decade, from 7.5 million today (12% of the world market) to 11 million SWU.

And in this well-rehearsed strategy, the company primarily believes in the thirst of American electricians for nuclear fuels. Because unlike the European Union, Washington quickly decided to limit its exposure to Rosatom: under Law on suspension of Russian activity, the import of this precious fuel from Russia should not exceed 15% by 2030 against 28% in 2021 (about 4 million SWU). The United States intends to go even further, as discussions are underway to set in stone an ambitious new goal of 0% Russian imports by 2025. At this stage, our discussions with American customers are at an advanced stage. “, we slide in Orano.

Nuclear: Russia threatens to stop selling enriched uranium to US

Especially since other countries can decide and follow “Ending it with sanctions or import restrictions “, we add inside the company. Even if it doesn’t, Russia is at risk.” decided to limit gas exports “, he also emphasizes. His message is clear: depending on the context, the extension will allow possible prevention ” nuclear fuel shortage “, harmful” security of supply “.

France is dependent on Russia for the reprocessing of reprocessed uranium

Nevertheless, Orano does not yet intend to replace Rosatom in another aspect of fuel management – the reprocessing of reprocessed uranium (URT). Unlike upstream enrichment, which consists of chemically transformed natural rock to produce nuclear fuel, URT reprocessing affects the downstream side of the cycle. This is actually handling the spent fuel so that it can be reused after passing through the reactor.

Today, however, neither France nor any other Western European country has the industrial tools necessary to reprocess uranium from the spent fuel first used in EDF’s nuclear power plants. The electrician has always turned to Russia for this industrial process and continues to trade with Tenex, a subsidiary of French electrician Rosatom. The fruit of this partnership was realized on November 29 in FranceDelivery of the first shipment in France Enriched recycled uranium in Russia. The possible extension of the Tricastin enrichment plant will not change anything: ” There will be no modules to enrich the URT “, we confirm at Orano.

However, the company claims that “ can “, under the condition of building a special section. In the current enrichment plant, two of the 14 modules were built to house the URT. But its transformation is the first step a contract to refine and modify it before enriching it was terminated in 2008 because it was insufficient.

With the financial crisis, the price of natural uranium fell so low that electricians preferred to mine it rather than recycle the spent fuel. “, we explain at Orano.

However, given the price evolution and spent fuel storage limits approaching saturation, the strategy changed: at EDF, In the following years, the share of recycled uranium should increase and cover 25% of the need. It remains to be seen whether the contracts in question will go to Orano, which is ready to create new industrial tools, or will remain tied to Russia despite the geopolitical context.

Nuclear: First in 10 years, Russian reprocessed uranium arrives in France for EDF