Main Image Credit Courtesy of RUSI OSIA
Russia's nuclear energy exports continue to expand, even as its overall economy bears the brunt of Western sanctions.
Since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Western sanctions on the Russian economy have been expanding. Nonetheless, Russia’s nuclear energy exports have not come under economic restrictions. The Rosatom State Nuclear Energy Corporation (Rosatom), which has a monopoly over the Russian nuclear industry, has continued exports of nuclear fuel and other goods relevant to the nuclear energy sector. According to Russian customs data, sourced through a third-party commercial trade data provider, Russia has exported just over $1 billion-worth of nuclear energy-related goods and materials since the start of the war in Ukraine.
Some customers that have historically relied on Russian nuclear energy exports – like Ukraine, Czechia and Bulgaria – have sought to diversify away from Russian supplies. However, contractual obligations and technical challenges make diversification slow and complicated – although not impossible. Additionally, generous Russian financing arrangements make Russia an attractive supplier among its other competitors in the nuclear energy sector.
The trade data reviewed by the author shows a drop-off in Russian nuclear exports to some countries in Eastern and Western Europe since the invasion of Ukraine, but also a significant rise in the overall value of Russian nuclear energy exports in 2022. Significant increases in value can be observed in Russian nuclear energy-related exports to China, which appear to be the result of Russian exports of fuel for the Chinese CFR-600 reactor at the Xiapu nuclear power plant (NPP). In a year-on-year comparison between 2021–22, the dataset also shows increases in overall Russian nuclear exports to Hungary, Turkey and India. And while the dataset studied by the author does not span a long enough time frame to draw definitive conclusions on longterm trends in Russian nuclear energy exports, or how Russia’s invasion of Ukraine might impact these trends, it does point to the importance for the Russian nuclear energy sector of markets outside North America and traditional European customers.
The primacy among Russian nuclear energy customers of countries that have proven reluctant to support Western sanctions on Russia so far suggests that any EU and US sanctions on Rosatom and Russian nuclear trade need to be coupled with broader diplomatic efforts if they are to be effective in significantly curtailing Russian economic gains from its nuclear energy exports. Focusing efforts on bringing countries like Turkey and Hungary on board with increasing the political and economic pressure on Moscow – including through the provision of viable and sustainable alternatives to Russian nuclear energy-related supplies – will be key. Securing China’s cooperation will undoubtedly prove more difficult. As it has in other contexts, Russia will find ways to take advantage of these divisions to its own benefit.
To read the accompanying report from Bloomberg, see here: Russia’s Grip on Nuclear-Power Trade Is Only Getting Stronger
Proliferation and Nuclear Policy