COP28 is the backdrop for new fuel commitments from the U.S. and allies

December 12, 2023, 12:01PMNuclear News

Leaders of five nations that collectively represent 50 percent of the world’s uranium conversion and enrichment capacity—the United States, Canada, Japan, France, and the United Kingdom—are making a habit of meeting on the sidelines of global climate talks to pledge their commitment to securing the nuclear fuel supply chain. On December 7 at the Net Zero Nuclear Summit—an event held in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, during the UN Climate Change Conference, or COP28—representatives of those nations announced plans to “mobilize at least $4.2 billion” in government and private investment in enrichment and conversion capacity. The commitment expands on an initial civil nuclear fuel security agreement that the so-called Sapporo 5 reached in April 2023, when they met (as now, on the sidelines) during a G7 Ministers’ Meeting on Climate, Energy, and Environment in Sapporo, Japan.

While nuclear-related announcements from Dubai or Sapporo may not headline the official agendas of COP28 or the G7 climate meeting, they are being heard. The latest announcement from the Sapporo 5 followed a high-profile December 5 pledge by 22 countries to triple nuclear energy capacity globally by 2050.

The new pledge: A news release from the State Department declares that “The United States, along with Canada, Japan, France, and the United Kingdom, announced their collective intent to support increased deployment of zero-carbon, peaceful nuclear energy by expanding nuclear fuel production capacity across trusted, high-quality suppliers free from manipulation and influence.” Specifically, the five nations will work to mobilize “at least $4.2 billion in government-led and private investment in the five nations’ collective enrichment and conversion capacity over the next three years.” They will do this “with a view to further additional private sector finance, and invite all like-minded nations to join in securing the global uranium supply chain.”

The Department of Energy describes the news as an effort to “establish a resilient global uranium supply market free from Russian influence.” In addition to arranging funding of at least $4.2 billion, resolutions by the Sapporo 5 include the following:

Establish a resilient global uranium supply market free from Russian influence and “the potential to be subject to political leverage by other countries.”

Work toward enabling the investment of government or private-led financial resources necessary to increase our own conversion and enriched uranium production capacity and to advance efforts to secure reliable nuclear fuel suppliers.

Invite nuclear electricity–generating utilities or direct nuclear energy industrial end-users of likeminded nations to develop long-term supply strategy that signals and provides confidence to the industry to make the relevant investment to increase their capacity.

Sapporo 5—the origin story: After energy ministers of the five countries met to talk fuel in Sapporo, Japan, they announced a Statement on Civil Nuclear Fuel Cooperation Between the United States, Canada, France, Japan, and the United Kingdom during a half-day Nuclear Energy Forum jointly hosted by the Japan Atomic Industrial Forum and the Nuclear Energy Institute and attended by representatives of nuclear trade associations and nuclear industry.

Their statement said, in part, “Collaborating on strategic opportunities in uranium extraction, conversion, enrichment, and fabrication supports our collective climate, energy security, and economic resilience objectives. . . . 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.”

U.S. energy secretary Jennifer Granholm gave keynote remarks during the Nuclear Energy Forum in April and said that international collaboration can support the deployment of nuclear energy, including by “making sure that the global supply chain does not rely upon unreliable supply.”

“We know [that with] the invasion of Ukraine, Russia has demonstrated that it is an unreliable supplier,” she added. “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.”

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