When I spoke at the Fourth Russian Energy Forum held in Moscow near the Kremlin in 2006, Russia’s future with respect to the peaceful use of nuclear energy was improving. Russia was in the middle of a deal with the United States to blend down the highly enriched uranium from 20,000 nuclear warheads into fuel for light-water reactors. It was also looking to expand its reactor export and nuclear fuel business. This business was promising enough that nuclear energy was included in its forum along with its energy behemoths, oil and natural gas. The prospects for Russia’s nuclear power future were such that I titled my speech “Atoms for Peace in a New Era.”

Russia has indeed made great strides in the peaceful use of nuclear energy over the past several decades, beginning with the 1990s when it agreed to blend down the nuclear warhead material for use in reactors. Since that time, Russia has greatly expanded its reactor export business and in doing so is bringing nuclear energy to countries like Turkey and Egypt which had none before. Today, Russia is a major exporter of reactors and nuclear fuel. With nuclear energy able to play a key role in combatting climate change, Russia’s participation is critical.

This progress and potential are being jeopardized by Russia’s military actions at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant in Ukraine. In the nuclear power arena, reactor incidents are never contained to the country in which they occur. This has been demonstrated by the worldwide reaction to the Fukushima accident in Japan and even earlier in Ukraine with respect to the Chernobyl meltdown. It is questionable whether nuclear power, much less Russia’s role in it, can withstand another major accident.

For its own good and the good of the world, Russia needs to demilitarize Zaporizhzhia. The risk of a nuclear incident is high as is the risk of Russia being ostracized by the nuclear energy community if this is not done. Russia has a proud legacy and a prominent position when it comes to peaceful nuclear energy, but this can be undone by continued occupation of Zaporizhzhia.

Nuclear power’s role is more critical than ever in today’s world. The challenge to bring nuclear energy to the “power-starved areas of the world,” as President Eisenhower implored in his speech to the United Nations, remains. In addition, the entire world faces a climate challenge where nuclear energy can be of immense benefit. To these ends, Russia has a choice. Much is at stake.

Portrait: Jeff Combs
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Jeff Combs is founder, owner, and Chairman of UxC, LLC (UxC) and is a leading expert in the nuclear fuel market, with over 45 years of experience providing economic analysis and forecasting for the front-end of the nuclear fuel cycle. He has extensive and varied expertise, overseeing UxC market reports, providing strategic consulting to major commercial companies in the nuclear fuel industry, and advising governments and international organizations on market and policy issues. Under his management, UxC has grown to become the world’s pre-eminent nuclear fuel market information and analysis company, issuing reports and publishing prices for all front-end nuclear fuel markets. In 2007, UxC teamed with CME/NYMEX to introduce the world’s first uranium futures contract. That same year UxC began reporting on the backend of the fuel cycle. In 2018, Mr. Combs created the atompeace.org website to advance understanding of peaceful uses of the atom in today’s world. During his career, Mr. Combs has presented papers at a variety of nuclear industry and energy economics conferences throughout the world. In addition, he has had his work published in academic and public policy journals. Mr. Combs earned a bachelor's degree in Economics at the University of Virginia, where he also completed his doctoral course work in economics. He is a charter member of the International Association of Energy Economics and is a member of the American Nuclear Society.