(Bloomberg) -- French state-controlled uranium producer Orano SA is considering growing its capacity to enrich the radioactive ore into nuclear fuel by almost 50% as Western governments and utilities seek to reduce their reliance on Russia since its attack on Ukraine.

The war is “reviving the urgency” to raise Western uranium-enrichment capacity to avoid potential shortages, Orano said, according to a statement of France’s public debate committee. The cost of the capacity extension from 7.5 million to 11 million so-called separative work units at its plant in central France is estimated at 1.3 billion euros ($1.3 billion). 

“We’re working on various scenarios, including the extension of our Georges Besse II plant, which would be the fastest option, but also on building that extra capacity in the US,” Christophe Neugnot, head of communications at Orano, said by phone. “We’ll need client commitments for our board to make a final decision in 2023, which would allow the first part of the extension to be commissioned toward 2028.”

The US and European nations have refrained from sanctioning Russian nuclear giant Rosatom, the world’s largest uranium enricher, amid concern that power supplies to hundreds of millions of people across globe would be at risk of disruption. Still, they are increasingly cutting off ties with the Kremlin, which has been reducing natural gas shipments to Europe, with the latest blow being damage to the already-idled Nord Stream pipelines in what some governments suspect as sabotage.

Earlier this year, the Swedish State-owned utility Vattenfall AB extended deals to buy nuclear fuel from suppliers in France and the US after halting imports from Russian. Meantime, the Biden administration is pushing for the development of more domestic uranium-enrichment capacity.  

The US only has one commercial enrichment facility, in New Mexico, which is owned by Urenco Ltd., a British, German and Dutch consortium. The company said in its half-year presentation that it’s assessing where it can add a new plant to increase production.    

Russia’s Rosatom is the world’s largest uranium enricher, with a 36% market share, according to its website.


©2022 Bloomberg L.P.