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The Putinization of the World’s Resources
Commentary on the News
Monday, July 09, 2012
Ed DeShields

President Obama recently declared a 'national emergency' to deal with the threat from Russia’s accumulation of a large volume of weapons-usable fissile material.  What national emergency?

Russia isn’t intending to launch a new nuclear arms race, nor is this a new issue between the US and Russia.  The latest declaration is actually the third such desperate plea, since 1993, to slow Putin from dominating the market for the increasingly scarce mineral uranium. 

But it is, never the less, a world emergency.

It’s also a new beginning for Russia’s long contemplated plan to control important natural resources – especially energy resources.  The world’s coming demand for energy is no secret.  Putin has positioned his country to capitalize on the looming global uranium-supply crunch.

Vladimir Putin is a very smart and savvy leader who strongly believes that natural resources are a source of great power.  His long-term plan is confirmed by his consistent efforts to control Europe's natural gas supplies, and his use of Russia's oil wealth to gain international power.  Uranium is his next target beginning in 2013 when 30 year old agreements between the US and Russia expire. 

Few Americans are aware that the United States relies on Russia for one-half of the uranium that feeds our nuclear reactors.  Global demand for uranium is growing at 35% each decade, and will grow at a similar pace indefinitely. Production of this important natural resource cannot support the need for it.  Putin realizes that prices are going to rise significantly and controlling the market for uranium is a valuable asset.

Russia itself produces uranium but also has close ties in neighboring Kazakhstan, the world's top uranium producer.  Since Russia’s primary production cannot meet demand it will require secondary sources to meet demand.

There is only one significant secondary source - downblended warheads - and Russia operates some of the very few facilities in the world that can downblend highly enriched uranium (HEU) – the material used in bombs -- into low-enriched uranium (LEU) used in nuclear plants that produce electricity.

Downblended HEU uranium supply comes from a post-Cold War deal called the Megatons to Megawatts Agreement, struck in 1993, where the US and Russia agreed that Russia would dismantle some 20,000 old nuclear warheads and downblend the highly enriched uranium (HEU) in those warheads into the low enriched uranium (LEU) that is used to power nuclear reactors.  The Megatons deal has gone very well over the years. The first downblended LEU arrived in the US in 1994 and the US has protected Russian goods on American soil related to the Megatons deal since the program began.  The latest Executive Order was a continuance of that presidential protection.

Why is Obama reiterating that Megatons-related payments and properties are off-limits to all?

Because that agreement expires in 2013 and President Obama’s emergency order is a weak attempt to convince Russia to play nice.  We continue to agree to protect their trade, financial transactions and uranium inventory under Presidential Order and they agree to sell us what we need.  Or, we hope.

Experts say Putin is not at all interested in extending the Megatons deal.  After all, the chips are on Putin’s side of the table.  Why agree to old terms when the global uranium market has tilted in the favor of Russia?  Instead, Putin will be more than happy (maybe not) to sit down and hammer out a new uranium supply deal -- to his advantage of course. 

President Obama knows this.  His acknowledgment that Putin has the upper hand is a sign of the times.  If Putin disagrees, the United States will find itself on the outside looking in.

About Ed DeShields

Last article: Tensions Boil as Israeli Oil Riches Grow

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