While tough EU sanctions apply to Russian energy companies, there is an exception for Rosatom and his boss. The Russian uranium sellers make their deals in Europe unhindered, because the dependence on them is enormous. The German government, which has now decided to continue operating two nuclear power plants, looks on unmoved.

The decision by Federal Economics Minister Robert Habeck (Greens) to allow two nuclear power plants in southern Germany to run longer than the end of the year has thrown the federal government into a new conflict: one of the most important suppliers of the fuel rods themselves and of the uranium used to manufacture the fuel rods is the state-owned Russian company Rosatom. If the nuclear power plants have to run beyond the actual shutdown date for more than a few weeks, the federal government needs a clear stance on the uranium supplier Rosatom.

But she doesn’t have that. Because while the vast majority of Russian state-owned companies are subject to a strict sanctions regime by the EU and thus also by Germany, the largest nuclear company in Russia conducts its business in the EU largely unhindered. The reason is a fatal dependency, into which not only Germany but also other EU states have entered, and which makes a severing of relations with Rosatom almost hopeless.

It is the Austrian government that has at least recognized the problem and recently commissioned a detailed study from the Federal Environment Agency in Vienna on Rosatom’s ties with the EU. The result: There is “a strong dependence of the EU on Rosatom”. The use of nuclear energy does not increase the security of supply, but has made the EU dependent on Russia. Is this the reason why the EU did not put Rosatom and its boss, Alexej Likatschew, on the sanctions list? Likatchev can move freely in the EU and only last week in Vienna again negotiated with the International Atomic Energy Agency IAEA in Vienna. The subject this time was the Ukrainian nuclear power plant Zaporizhia, which has also been under the control of Rosatom since the Russian occupation.

The state-owned nuclear energy company Rosatom is a classic holding structure and comprises around 300 companies. Rosatom not only works in the civilian use of nuclear energy, but also for the Russian military with 90,000 of the 275,000 employees. The EU countries continue to cooperate in various forms with the state-owned company. Russian uranium products, fuel elements and services in the field of construction, operation and – of particular interest for the German operators of nuclear power plants – demolition of nuclear power plants are imported.

So far, the EU has imported 99.5 percent of the natural uranium it needs. Around 20 percent came from Russia in 2020 and 19 percent from Kazakhstan, which is politically close to Russia. In relation to Russia’s uranium production, 90 percent of it is exported to Europe. Rosatom is the second largest uranium producer in the world. In 2021, Rosatom supplied fuel assemblies to 21 nuclear reactors in the EU: Bulgaria, Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic are fully dependent on Rosatom fuel assemblies – Finland 35 percent. As part of a cooperation between Rosatom and the French nuclear company Framatome, three reactors in Western Europe are being supplied with fuel elements.

According to the authors of the Austrian Environmental Agency, there are also links between Rosatom and European companies with Siemens and Nukem. In Lingen, Lower Saxony, where the French nuclear power producer Framatome has been manufacturing fuel elements for decades, Rosatom is one of the standard suppliers. Both sides wanted to intensify their cooperation in the past year. At that time, Bernard Fontana, CEO of Framatome, and his Russian colleague Likatschew signed contracts for extensive cooperation. The plant in Lingen is only part of it.

“Through the close cooperation with our industrial partner Rosatom, we are strengthening our contribution to the safe and reliable generation of clean energy generated by our customers’ nuclear power plants,” said Bernard Fontana at the signing and even announced armaments cooperation: “Together we are building on our expertise for maintaining the operation of the existing nuclear fleet and preparing for the next generation of nuclear energy.” His colleague from Rosatom praised the cooperation against the background of the climate debate: “Today the world finally realized that it is impossible to achieve CO2 neutrality without nuclear energy to reach. Therefore, we must accelerate our joint efforts to achieve global decarbonization goals,” Likachev said.

In the meantime the wind has turned, but only slightly. More than 50 barrels of fuel rod production material due to arrive in Lingen from Russia this month were rerouted by Rosatom and landed directly at Framatome in France. Environmentalists who had posted themselves in front of the plant in Lingen waited in vain. The Federal Office for the Safety of Nuclear Waste Management (BASE) had previously confirmed current transports from Russia to the fuel element factory in Lingen. The basis is approvals from 2021, said a BASE spokesman.

Environmentalists are therefore on the barricades. Vladimir Slivyak, Russian activist, winner of the Alternative Nobel Prize, has long been calling for the cooperation with the “Russian regime” to be stopped and for Rosatom to be sanctioned. “Rosatom has an active task in the Ukraine war: the coordination of Russian troops in the occupation of nuclear power plants – specifically in Zaporizhia,” says Slivyak. “Rosatom must therefore be sanctioned as a fossil and military Russian nuclear company.”

The Ukrainian government is also demanding sanctions. Energy Minister German Halushchenko met US Energy Minister Jennifer Granholm just last week and raised the issue, according to the Ukrainian news platform Ukrinform. However, Ukraine’s call for sanctions to be imposed on more than 700 people and organizations linked to Rosatom has so far fallen on deaf ears. Rosatom also has major customers in the US.

There are only evasive statements from the German side: The Ministry of the Environment says “Rosatom is a major player in the nuclear field. It can therefore be assumed that some expansion plans will be put to the test again in the foreseeable future.” And Habeck’s Ministry of Economics said tight-lipped on request: “Sanctions will be decided jointly by the EU member states. The list of sanctioned goods and people will be published by the EU.” The ministry does not provide any information on “individual cases”.

The article “Putin’s nuclear dealers are doing business unhindered and Germany is just watching” comes from WirtschaftsKurier.