The use of Russian uranium for Swiss nuclear power under surveillance

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View of the Beznau 1 nuclear power plant. © Keystone / Ennio Leanza

The Russian nuclear company Rosatom is helping to supply two nuclear power plants in Switzerland. This trade link is now under scrutiny as the Western world puts financial pressure on Russia to end its aggression against Ukraine.

This content was published on March 31, 2022 – 12:18

The Swiss electricity company Axpo buys fuel from Rosatom to operate the nuclear power plants of Beznau and Leibstadt in the canton of Aarau.

In a statement released on Thursday, environmental NGO Greenpeace urged authorities in seven Swiss cantons – which own Axpo – to stop buying uranium from Rosatom.

This commercial relationship, according to the NGO, helps finance Russia’s war effort in Ukraine. Competing company Alpiq, which operates the Gösgen nuclear site, stopped sourcing from Russia in 2016.

Honor current contracts

“If you have a proven supplier that delivers the quality you need – for safety and quality reasons – then you don’t switch so easily,” Willibald Kohlpaintner, head of the nuclear energy division, told the Swiss audience. Axpo and member of the management. SRF television.

Axpo plans to honor its current contracts with Rosatom, Kohlpaintner added, but will not sign new ones. Axpo currently sources three quarters of its total fuel from Rosatom.

The two Beznau reactors depend entirely on Russian fuel. In Leibstadt, also operated by Axpo, half of the enriched uranium comes from Russia.

However, Kohlpainter said Axpo is “currently examining extensively how [it] can reduce dependence on Russian fuel”. The company also has a stockpile of natural uranium and slightly enriched uranium in Western Europe for emergencies.

Of the four Swiss nuclear reactors, only Gösgen, operated by the Alpiq company, does not buy Russian uranium. Alpiq said the decision was made in 2016 due to considerations of environmental compatibility and supply chain transparency.

Since then, the company has been sourcing uranium from Canada and Australia, before enriching it in Western Europe.

Overall, 50% of Switzerland’s fuel for nuclear energy currently comes from Russia, notes SRF.

By paying for Russian uranium, Switzerland could also contribute indirectly to the financing of the Russian military apparatus. The SRF points out that Rosatom is the manufacturer of the Russian warheads and now controls the operation of various Ukrainian nuclear power plants, such as that of Zaporizhzhya, seized after the fighting on March 4.

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