Senate Passes Ban Of Russian Uranium Imports, Risking Market “Havoc” And Soaring Prices

With shares of CCJ tumbling earlier today after the company reported soggy Q1 earnings, despite its recent initiating coverage report by an enthusiastic Goldman Sachs which sees the Uranium company at the forefront of the “Next AI trade” and slapped it with a $55 price target (as we reported previously), the uranium trade suddenly found itself in need of a miracle.

It got that after hours, when the Senate voted late on Tuesday to approve legislation banning the import of enriched uranium from Russia – the same Russia which supplies 25% of the uranium used by the 90 US commercial nuclear reactors – and sending the measure to the White House which has said it supports efforts to block the Kremlin’s shipments of the reactor fuel and is expected to sign the deal, guaranteeing that uranium prices will soar.

A truck carries containers with low-enriched uranium to be used as fuel for nuclear reactors, at a port in St. Petersburg, Russia

The Prohibiting Russian Uranium Imports Act, approved by unanimous consent and which must be sign by Biden before becoming law –  would bar US imports 90 days after enactment while allowing temporary waivers until January 2028.

Some context for what this ban would mean for the US: Russia provided almost a quarter of the enriched uranium used to fuel America’s fleet of more than 90 commercial reactors, making it the No. 1 foreign supplier, according to US Energy Department data. Those sales provide an estimated $1 billion a year to Russia, but replacing that supply could be a challenge and risks raising the costs of enriched uranium by about 20%.

The White House had called for a “long-term ban” on Russian imports, which is needed to unlock some $2.7 billion to stand up a domestic uranium industry made available by Congress earlier this year, contingent on there being limits on the import of Russian uranium in place.

“This is a national security priority as dependence on Russian sources of uranium creates risk to the US economy and the civil nuclear industry that has been further strained by Russia’s war in Ukraine,” the White House said earlier in a fact sheet. “Without action, Russia will continue its hold on the global uranium market to the detriment of US allies and partners.”

The House bill was approved by voice vote in December amid growing congressional support to cut off Russia in the wake of its invasion of Ukraine. The US has banned imports of Russian oil and worked with Group of Seven allies to impose a price cap on seaborne exports of crude and petroleum products.

To be sure, there are loopholes: the legislation, which expires at the end of 2040, permits the Department of Energy to issue waivers authorizing the entire volume of Russian uranium imports allowed under export limits set in an anti-dumping agreement between the Department of Commerce and Russia through 2027.

Without those waivers, an approximate 20% jump is possible from the current enrichment spot price of $165 per separative work unit to a record high of as much as $200 per SWU, according to Jonathan Hinze, president of nuclear fuel market research firm UxC. Enriched uranium is measured in separative work units, or SWU, which account for the volume and enrichment density of the radioactive metal.

“But if there is an immediate ban it could be even more extreme,” Hinze said. “There are very limited supplies available.”

Still, since the government is now intimately involved in every aspect of the uranium procurement, it is virtually guaranteed that prices will soar, which is why CCJ stock recouped almost all of its losses after hours.

And while the Biden admin’s decision may be mostly posturing, it’s possible Russia will respond with a unilateral export ban if the US bars imports. Last December, Tenex, a Russian state-owned uranium company, warned American customers that the Kremlin may preemptively bar exports of its nuclear fuel to the US if lawmakers in Washington pass legislation prohibiting imports starting in 2028.

Tenex’s US subsidiary told electric companies including Constellation Energy Corp., Duke Energy Corp. and Dominion Energy to prepare for such an outcome.

“Tenex completely refutes as inaccurate the information regarding the alleged ‘warnings’ of a potential ‘pre-emptive’ ban on enriched uranium supplies to the United States,” Rosatom’s press office said in an emailed statement.

As Bloomberg reported at the time, “a move to bar exports would risk wreaking havoc in uranium markets, causing prices to spike for the nuclear reactor fuel that may be harder for smaller utilities to absorb.”

An import ban will take some time to affect operators of US nuclear power plants. Reactors are typically refueled every 18 months to 24 months, and fuel purchases are negotiated long in advance. That means most but not all utilities have already lined up enough uranium to keep their reactors running for at least the next few years. Still, negotiations for subsequent commodity procurement take place all the time, and while there is no immediate risk of scarcity, once the 2026 refueling negotiations take place, watch as Uranium stocks explode to new all time high.

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