Russia hails US court ruling opening possibilities of uranium sales to America

Trasportation of low-enriched uranium from Russia to the United States under the HEU-LEU agreement

Publish date: October 1, 2007

Written by: Charles Digges

NEW YORK- Russia's nuclear energy chief Sergei Kiriyenko last week hailed a decision by a US trade court that found sales of Russian uranium in the United States should not be subject to anti-dumping measures, opening a commercial road for the Russian atomic industry that had been closed since 1991.

The US Department of Trade has two months to investigate the trade scope of the anti-dumping measures and lift them from Russian uranium.

"The U.S. Court of International Trade made a kind of present to our nuclear sector when its judge ruled that uranium enrichment is a service rather than goods, which means it cannot be the subject to anti-dumping investigation," Kiriyenko, told a news briefing in Moscow on Friday.

But the Silk Road for Russian uranium to US markets is not open yet. Federal level agreements for sales of nuclear materials for peaceful purposes need to be signed, and the US department of Trade, which was taken by surprise by the court decision, intends to appeal.

The US Department of Commerce carried out a five-year review the anti-dumping measures against Russia last year and decided to leave the measures in place.

But, Russian state nuclear firm Techsnabexport (Tenex) filed a petition in the court last year against this decision. Kiriyenko said the US court announced its ruling last Wednesday.

History of anti-dumping laws

Anti-dumping procedures against Russia were started in 1991-1992 after Russian companies flooded the US market with nuclear materials following the fall of the Soviet Union. The measures were enacted when cheap Russian uranium began to drop prices worldwide.

In return, the United States slapped a barrier tax of 118 percent on all uranium imports from Russia, halting them altogether.

Russian nuclear officials say the US nuclear market could be worth billions of dollars for Russian companies. Kommersant Russian daily reported that most of the uranium likely to be sold in the US would come to Russia via Australia, which just singed a deal with Moscow deal for 4,000 tons per year of uranium from the continent’s burgeoning supplies.

Russia’s uranium needs have been established to be 5,000 tons for domestic use and 15,000 tons for export. The Australian deal, said analysts, will certainly fortify Russia’s export abilities.

Currently Russia only sells highly enriched uranium (HEU) recovered from dismantled Russian nuclear weapons, which is down blended low enriched uranium (LEU) to the United States under a non-proliferation programme known as the “HEU-LEU” or "megatons to megawatts” agreement.

This material is not subject to anti-dumping measures, and is sold as nuclear fuel for US reactors by the United States Enrichment Corporation (USEC). Some 44 percent of the reactors in the United States are fueled with uranium coming from the Megatons to Megawatts programme,

How much does Russia stand to make?

The agreement was signed in 1994, and in 2006, Russia state nuclear export firm Techsnabexport (Tenex), which, according to Kommersant, made between $400m and $500m on the uranium sold through the agreement on the programme’s fixed pricing scheme which is lower than prices paid on world markets – which are currently at about $185 a kilogram according to Kommersant.

Yet prices soared to nearly twice that over this past summer.

When Tenex filed the suit in the US to lift the anti dumping measures, the company estimated that it was missing out on $1.1 billion annually in US-uranium sales. A study conducted in 2007 by Kommersant and Russia nuclear industry revealed that figure to would have jumped to almost $2 billion, given the rise in 2007 uranium prices.

According to the USEC website, Russia has made a total of $4.6 billion since 1994 on uranium sold to the US by the Megatons to Megawatts programme. The entire contract is for a sale of $7.6 billion. Programme officials estimate that goal will be reached by 2013.

It is anticipated that USEC will have completed its own enrichment facility by 2012, meaning Tenex, it’s partner in the Megatons to Megawatts programme, will become its biggest US competitor.

Without a new sales agreement, no sale in US
Kiriyenko said Russia was ready to sign a long awaited civil atomic energy deal with the United State that would increase nuclear cooperation between the former Cold War foes.

"We are ready to sign an agreement on peaceful nuclear energy -even tomorrow," Kiriyenko said, according to Reuters.

Kiriyenko is understandably anxious to get this agreement signed. At present, the only agreement covering delivery of Russian fuel to the United States is provided by the Megatons to Megawatts agreement. Absent another signed on a federal level, Russia will not be able to import the bumper crop of uranium to US markets.

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