Five G7 nations form alliance to reduce reliance on Russian nuclear fuel

April 20, 2023, 3:00PMNuclear News
The ministers representing their respective nations as the statement on civil nuclear fuel cooperation was announced were (from left) Jonathan Wilkinson, minister of natural resources of Canada; Yasutoshi Nishimura, Japan’s minister of economy, trade, and industry; Jennifer Granholm, U.S. energy secretary; Grant Shapps, U.K. energy security secretary; and Agnes Pannier-Runacher, French minister for energy transition.

A civil nuclear fuel security agreement between the five nuclear leaders of the G7—announced on April 16 on the sidelines of the G7 Ministers’ Meeting on Climate, Energy and Environment in Sapporo, Japan—establishes cooperation between Canada, France, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States to flatten Russia’s influence in the global nuclear fuel supply chain.

The cooperative effort “would aim to recognize and leverage the unique resources and capabilities possessed by each country’s civil nuclear sectors to establish a global commercial nuclear fuel market” and could be a first step toward resolving—or even preventing—a nuclear fuel supply crisis for the United States and its global partners. An article published on Newswire ahead of the weekend’s meetings describes in detail the origins and the high stakes of what author Matt Wald calls “the U.S. nuclear fuel Gordian knot.”

Agreements abound: At least three documents discussing nuclear energy were issued from Sapporo over the weekend.

The high-level agreement with the potential to reshape international nuclear fuel trade and effectively sideline Russia—Statement on Civil Nuclear Fuel Cooperation Between the United States, Canada, France, Japan, and the United Kingdom—was announced during a half-day Nuclear Energy Forum jointly hosted by the Japan Atomic Industrial Forum and the Nuclear Energy Institute and attended by the ministers representing the five nations, as well as representatives of nuclear trade associations and nuclear industry. A livestreamed recording of the Nuclear Energy Forum is available on YouTube.

As Newswire has already reported, representatives of several nuclear industry trade associations signed a document at the same gathering pledging their support for the continued operation of existing nuclear reactors and support for the development of advanced reactors.

A separate 36-page statement from the G7 energy and environment ministers issued at the end of the weekend describes climate commitments ahead of a G7 summit in Hiroshima in May. Signatories to that statement included Germany, which just shuttered its last nuclear power plants in favor of increased near-term fossil fuel generation, and Italy, which has no operating nuclear power reactors, so it is not surprising that support for nuclear energy was present but understated in a G7 statement that described multiple avenues to global clean energy transitions.

The statement signed by all seven nations did note that “Those countries that opt to use nuclear energy . . . commit to support the development and construction of nuclear reactors, . . . building robust and resilient nuclear supply chains including nuclear fuel, and maintaining/strengthening nuclear technology and human resources, under the cooperation among like-minded countries with shared values, as well as working with reliable partners to reduce dependence on Russia and to ensure security of supply by a continuous supply diversification effort.”

Rhetoric on Russia: U.S. energy secretary Jennifer Granholm gave keynote remarks during the Nuclear Energy Forum naming several areas in which international collaboration can support the deployment of clean nuclear energy, including “making sure that the global supply chain does not rely upon unreliable supply.”

Granholm added, “We know [that with] the invasion of Ukraine, Russia has demonstrated that it is an unreliable supplier. And so all of these countries . . . that have relied upon Russia . . . need to be looking at partnering for future investment with countries and companies who share their values. . . . Collaborating on making sure we have that full supply chain is a critical point of future work together between these countries, between the industries that are represented here.”

A press statement issued April 16 by the office of U.K. energy security secretary Grant Shapps framed the new civil nuclear fuel agreement as “an alliance between the U.K., U.S., Canada, Japan, and France aimed at displacing Putin from the international nuclear energy market.” The press statement added that “this agreement will be used as the basis for pushing Putin out of the nuclear fuel market entirely, and doing so as quickly as possible, to cut off another means for him to fund his barbaric attack on Ukraine and fundamentally leave Russia out in the cold.”

The civil nuclear fuel statement in full: The full text of the agreement on civil nuclear fuel cooperation was published by the U.S. Department of Energy on April 17:

The United States, Canada, France, Japan, and the United Kingdom share common visions of democracy as well as safe and secure global economic and energy systems. Russia’s unprovoked and unjustifiable war against Ukraine and the increasing impacts of climate change have fundamentally altered the global energy landscape and accelerated the need for collaboration between like-minded allies. In the June 2022 Group of Seven Leaders’ Communique, our Leaders made clear our collective intent to reduce reliance on civil nuclear and related goods from Russia, including working to assist countries seeking to diversify their nuclear fuel supply chains.

To this end, the United States, Canada, France, Japan, and the United Kingdom have identified potential areas of collaboration on nuclear fuels to support the stable supply of fuels for the operating reactor fleets of today, enable the development and deployment of fuels for the advanced reactors of tomorrow, and achieve reduced dependence on Russian supply chains. This multilateral effort would aim to recognize and leverage the unique resources and capabilities possessed by each country’s civil nuclear sectors to establish a global commercial nuclear fuel market. Collaborating on strategic opportunities in uranium extraction, conversion, enrichment, and fabrication supports our collective climate, energy security, and economic resilience objectives. This multilateral cooperation would enable us to strengthen our domestic sectors and establish a level playing field to compete more effectively against predatory suppliers.

This strategic collaboration aims to increase the depth and resilience of our nuclear fuel supply chains, while supporting the wider geostrategic objectives of further reducing reliance on Russia in the nuclear fuel supply chain for the long term and increasing the availability of commercial free-market alternatives in the supply of civil nuclear technologies to third countries. The supply of civil nuclear technology, equipment, or materials would be subject to applicable domestic laws, regulations, and international agreements.

The United States, Canada, France, Japan, and the United Kingdom further seek to explore avenues to collaborate in multilateral spheres to advance energy security and economic resilience for partners around the globe. We welcome the announcements made at G7 this year of additional action in support of this goal.

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