US law HR1042, the Prohibiting Russian Uranium Imports Act, which bans the import of low-enriched uranium (LEU) from Russian sources that was signed into law on 13 May goes into effect on 11August. To ensure US NPPs do not experience disruptions to their fuel supplies, the Department of Energy (DOE) has now released details of the process whereby importers can be granted a waiver. Russia currently supplies about a quarter of the LEU used in US reactors. However, utilities that do not receive a waiver within 60 days could lose their place in line for reactor fuel shipments and these can take three to four months to complete.

The process allows the Secretary of Energy, in consultation with the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Commerce, to grant a waiver to an importer for specified quantities of Russian LEU if the Secretary of Energy determines that:

  • no alternative viable source of LEU is available to sustain the continued operation of a nuclear reactor or a US nuclear energy company; or
  • the importation of Russian LEU is in the national interest.

An import could be in the national interest if it meets one of the following criteria:

  • The import is necessary to maintain the viability of a US nuclear energy company that is critical to the U.S. nuclear energy fuel supply chain.
  • The import is intended to support an existing arrangement to provide fuel for a NPP in another country and thus minimise the likelihood of that country seeking a non-US fuel supplier.

DOE believes it is important to the national interest to keep existing elements of the domestic fuel chain infrastructure in operation and to focus on expanding domestic fuel chain capacity. DOE also believes it is important to the national interest to maintain supply relationships with end-users in other countries while additional LEU capacity is being developed. In addition, waiver applicants may identify other situations that they believe may be in the national interest for consideration by the Secretary of Energy.

The Act does not define what constitutes an “alternative viable source”. DOE notes that planning for a reactor refuelling involves long lead times and a need for certainty concerning the availability of the fuel to support the refuelling. Thus, an alternative source needs to be identified and secured many months prior to a scheduled refuelling. This timing issue is necessarily a significant factor in determining whether an alternative source is available.

In addition, DOE does not interpret “viable” to mean that the terms and conditions, including price, of an alternative source must be the same as the prohibited Russian import but rather that the terms and conditions must be reasonable in the context of overall market conditions.

Waivers will only be granted for a limited amount of material: 476,536 kg in calendar year 2024; falling to 470,376 kg in 2025; 464,183 kg in 2026 and 459,083 in 2027.

In granting a waiver, the Secretary of Energy must submit a notification of such action, including the identification of the waiver recipient, to the following Congressional committees: the Senate Committee on Energy & Natural Resources, the Senate Committee on Finance, the House Committee on Energy & Commerce, and the House Committee on Ways & Means. Any waiver by the Secretary of Energy under this provision will terminate not later than 1 January, 2028.