France has been accused of helping to fund Vladimir Putin’s war effort by continuing to import nuclear fuel from Russia.
Greenpeace on Friday called it “scandalous” that uranium was still being bought by European companies to be used in nuclear power stations across the continent.
The campaigning charity this week filmed the arrival of dozens of drums of uranium, both raw and enriched, from Russia at the northern French port of Dunkirk.
Imports of nuclear fuel from Russia remain legal in Europe as Brussels has not been able to ban them in eight rounds of sanctions packages.
While Europe has been weaning itself off Russian fossil fuels since the start of the invasion of Ukraine, its nuclear sector is still heavily dependent on Russia and imports more than €200 million worth of uranium every year.
EU ban currently off the cards
Germany has sought a total ban, but the reliance of Hungary and other eastern nations on the fuel means a unanimous vote among the EU’s 27 member states is off the cards.
“The pursuit of the nuclear trade with Russia while the war in Ukraine rages is scandalous,” said Pauline Boyer, in charge of the nuclear and energy transition campaigns at Greenpeace France. “It’s business as usual.”
The NGO is calling for France - via its state-run nuclear utilities EDF and Orano - to sever all ties to the Russian nuclear industry, and notably to state-controlled Rosatom, which is directly under Mr Putin’s command.
Rosatom runs the civilian industry but is also in charge of Russia’s nuclear weapons arsenal and is currently overseeing the occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station in Ukraine.
After Russian forces shelled the plant, Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine’s president, this August called for a halt to nuclear shipments as part of EU sanctions.
“Russian nuclear terror requires a stronger response from the international community [including] sanctions on the Russian nuclear industry and nuclear fuel,” he said.
In October, France announced that EDF and Orano were halting the export of reprocessed uranium to Russia. However, Greenpeace said that the contract was only suspended, not terminated, and “this only represents the visible part of the iceberg” as imports of Russian uranium continue unabated.
Nuclear power plant and fuel provider Framatome, a subsidiary of EDF, this week confirmed that the Dunkirk shipment did indeed contain “materials to make nuclear fuel” destined for its “customers and notably the French nuclear fleet”.
The shipments fully respected “international sanctions”, EDF insisted.
Government draws up emergency energy plan
Orano said it had no link to the shipments and that “no new contract regarding the purchase or sale of nuclear materials has been signed (by the group) since the start of the war”.
The French state-controlled uranium producer in October said it was considering growing its capacity to enrich the uranium into nuclear fuel by almost 50 per cent to reduce reliance on Russia, either in plants in France or the US.
While nuclear power generates around one quarter of all electricity in the EU as a whole, the share amounts to over 40 per cent in Slovakia, Hungary and Bulgaria, and over 70 per cent for France, according to EU figures.
Normally an exporter of electricity due to its 56 nuclear reactors, France is in the midst of its own nuclear energy crisis because around half of its plants are currently out of action due to maintenance or corrosion issues.
That led the Government this week to draw up an emergency plan in case of shortages in the coming weeks, including reducing wattage, rolling power cuts and partially shutting schools to save electricity.