US Republican senator for Wyoming John Barrasso has called on the Commerce Department to launch an investigation into the effects of uranium imports on US national security.
“For years, government-owned uranium producers in Russia, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan have unfairly flooded American markets with cheap uranium. As a result, uranium production in the US has fallen to the lowest levels we have seen since the early 1950s,” said Barrasso.
His comments followed a day after American uranium producers Energy Fuels and Ur-Energy on Tuesday submitted a petition to the Commerce Department to investigate the national security effects of uranium imports from foreign State-owned firms in Russia, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.
Ur-Energy and Energy Fuels, both headquartered in Denver, Colorado, are the two main US uranium producers, together supplying more than half of all US uranium in 2017.
According to the Nuclear Energy Institute, nuclear energyprovides about 20% of all electricity, and nearly 60% of the carbon-free electricity generated in the US. Uranium is also the backbone of US nuclear deterrence and fuels ships and submarines in the US Navy. As recently as 1980, US producers supplied nearly 100% of our domestic uranium needs.
The petition was filed under Section 232 of the US Trade Expansion Act of 1962, which allows the government to restrict imports for national security reasons.
According to information provided by the US Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, imports of uranium – the fuel for nuclear reactors – from State-subsidised companies in Russia, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, provide nearly 40% of US uranium. The US produces less than 5% of the yellowcake it consumes. More than half of US-based uranium production occurs in Wyoming.
America’s 99 commercial nuclear power plant reactors are dependent on foreign sources for about 90% of their fuel needs, the committee said.
“America’s ability to produce uranium is crucial to power our economy and keep our nation safe. It’s not only an energysecurity issue, it is a national security issue. The Trump administration needs to expedite this investigation and take action to preserve this vital industry.”
The US nuclear industry is facing mounting challenges and substantially all plans to build new nuclear plants in the US have been cancelled, except for one in Georgia. The US Energy Information Administration has forecast nuclear’s contribution to the country’s energy mix to fall by nearly half by 2050, to 1%.
Uranium prices have been crawling listlessly sideways for several quarters now, as the market deals with less-than-expected demand from nuclear operations and slower-than-expected new builds, with the market flooded by too much product.
“Unless steps are taken now to foster a healthy domestic uranium mining industry, the defence stockpiles currently held by the Department of Energy will be depleted, and it is unlikely that domestic producers will have sufficient capabilities to meet our defence needs in the future,” the petitioners argued.
Wyoming, Barrasso’s home state, is responsible for half of the US’s uranium output.
Source: Mining Weekly