Despite the war in Ukraine, France continues to purchase uranium from Russia and send spent nuclear fuel to the aggressor country. As Mediapart writes, the first since the beginning of full-scale Russian aggression, shipment of natural uranium arrived at the port of Dunkirk in northern France on November 29. Meanwhile, according to the newspaper Le Monde, at the same time, after February 24, French companies sent spent fuel from their nuclear reactors to Russia. The nuclear industry has not been sanctioned by the European Union, but trade in nuclear materials with the Russian Federation can and should stop, according to French environmentalists.
On Tuesday, November 29, the ship “Mykhailo Dudin” that came from St. Petersburg was unloaded in the port of Dunkirk. According to Greenpeace, this was the first batch of Russian natural uranium that arrived in France after the start of the full-scale war in Ukraine. In addition to natural uranium, uranium hexafluoride enriched in Russia also arrived at Dunkirk.
At the same time, as the newspaper Le Monde writes, France does not depend on Russia in the operation of its 19 nuclear power plants. It imports natural uranium from Niger, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Australia, then processes and enriches it at the facilities of the French atomic giant Orano, and the fuel is produced at the Framatome plants, a “daughter” of the state-owned power generation company Électricité de France (EDF), which manages French nuclear power plants.
“The continuation of nuclear trade with Russia while the war in Ukraine is raging is outrageous,” said the head of the Greenpeace-France energy program, Pauline Boyer, although she admits that these shipments do not violate any laws or sanctions.
The fact is that Russia has the only plant in the world for the so-called “processing” of uranium, owned by Rosatom. For the past two years, Orano and EDF have been sending their spent nuclear fuel to the city of Siversk in Tomsk Oblast. According to Greenpeace, at least five such deliveries were made from January 2021 to January 2022.
“This shows how trapped the French nuclear industry is in its dependence on Russia,” says Pauline Boyer.
Orano, which signed a contract for the export of spent nuclear fuel with Rosatom in 2020, told Le Monde https://www.lemonde.fr/ that this contract has been fully fulfilled and there are no plans to sign a new one yet. In turn, the EDF group, which has also been sending its spent fuel for re-enrichment to Russia’s Siversk since 2018, noted in a comment to the newspaper that it has not made new deliveries since February 2022.
According to EDF https://www.lesechos.fr/industrie-services/energie-environnement/edf-relance-une-filiere-de-recyclage-de-son-uranium-use-138483 they are in talks with Orano and US Westinghouse on the establishment of a spent nuclear fuel processing plant in Western Europe. However, “the construction of the plant will last about ten years,” the energy company explains.
Environmentalists insist that currently existing technologies do not allow talking about the possibility of recycling.
“Officially it is considered recyclable waste, but in reality, it is not recycled. Because its chemical fission creates additional air pollution, water pollution and a lot of additional waste, the reuse of which is impossible,” French nuclear energy expert Yannick Rouslet explained in an interview with RFI.
Meanwhile, French nuclear waste storage facilities are overflowing. And the nuclear sector was not affected by any of the eight packages of sanctions introduced by the European Union since the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Although there is currently nothing illegal about these supplies, in addition to environmental concerns, it now raises serious ethical questions. The French government “recently ordered Orano and EDF to stop exporting processed uranium to Russia, RFI reports.