The United Kingdom is set to become the first European country to produce an advanced type of uranium fuel, breaking the current monopoly held by Russia. The UK government announced on Sunday that it will invest £300 million ($382 million) to establish a program for highly enriched uranium (HALEU) fuel, ranging from 5% to 20% enrichment, reported Al-Jarida Daily.
This move is aimed at reducing the country’s dependence on Russian fuel and ensuring energy security. In a statement, British Energy Minister Claire Coutinho emphasized the importance of challenging Russian influence in various energy markets. She stated, “We stood up to Russian President Vladimir Putin with regard to oil, gas, and financial markets.
We will not allow ourselves to be held hostage by him regarding nuclear fuel.” Coutinho also highlighted the significance of HALEU fuel for energy security both domestically and globally, building upon Britain’s historical competitive advantages. HALEU fuel is crucial for powering advanced next-generation nuclear reactors, including small modular reactors that the UK plans to adopt. Unlike conventional reactors, these advanced reactors require fuel containing between 5% and 20% uranium 235, higher than the 5% level used by most existing nuclear plants.
While the United States has recently started producing HALEU fuel, commercial manufacturing of uranium is limited to Russia. The £300 million investment is part of the UK government’s ambitious plan to generate up to 24 gigawatts of electricity from nuclear power by 2050, equivalent to a quarter of the country’s total electricity needs. The first nuclear station is expected to be established in northwest England and is scheduled to begin operations in the 2030s.
The government’s broader objective is to produce 95% of the country’s electricity from low-carbon sources by 2030, ultimately eliminating carbon emissions from electricity production by 2035. However, this goal has faced criticism, particularly as Prime Minister Rishi Sunak recently delayed the ban on the sale of petrol and diesel vehicles by five years, pushing it to 2035. Critics argue that this decision could impede the UK’s progress in achieving its zero-emissions target by 2050.