Uranium imports from foreign producers: A clear threat to national security

Uranium imports from foreign producers: A clear threat to national security
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The clock is ticking.

A too-often ignored threat to U.S. national security has been looming for decades. If ignored, that dangerous threat will become even more dire in 2018 and beyond.

Increasingly, the 20 percent of America’s electricity supplied by carbon-free nuclear power is controlled by autocratic, unaccountable states – Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and soon, China.

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These countries, sharing neither our democratic values nor our competitive markets, export uranium that is the key element for nuclear fuel. Although uranium occurs naturally and abundantly in soil and rock, American uranium miners provide less than 3 percent of what is needed to power U.S. homes and businesses, based on our industry estimates.

Given today’s geopolitical tensions, insecure and unreliable uranium imports can jeopardize our energy infrastructure.

That is why America’s two primary uranium mining companies, which we represent, jointly submitted in January a petition to the U.S. Department of Commerce (DOC) for relief under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962, a section of trade law designed by Congress to allow the president to adjust trade for national security purposes. We are certain that in the history of Section 232, no investigation has been more clearly linked to national security than this one.

We urge DOC to commence its investigation into the erosion of American nuclear security as soon as possible. After it investigates this issue, we are confident the DOC will recommend the president use his authority to adjust imports to ensure long-term viability of the U.S. uranium mining industry.

DOC needs to act quickly because we are running out of time to ensure survival of an American uranium mining industry in an ever more perilous world — especially vital because international treaties mandate that uranium used for our defense, including for our nuclear Navy, must be from domestic sources.

Making the situation worse, the only U.S. uranium conversion facility shut down indefinitely and we have no U.S. technology to enrich uranium. Our domestic nuclear fuel cycle is disappearing, not due to legitimate competition, but from foreign governments targeting our energy industry.

And once a longstanding trade agreement with Russia expires in 2020, we expect that country will act on public statements that it intends to greatly increase exports to the U.S., gaining even greater control over our energy industry.

As Eastern Europe knows all too well, Vladimir Putin's Russia has a record of effectively using energy exports as a geopolitical weapon.

We seek a sensible quota that would, in effect, reserve 25 percent of the U.S. market for domestic uranium. We also request implementation of a “buy American” policy for U.S. government agencies that use uranium. These are the least onerous solutions to a growing national crisis. We expect the cost to utilities and consumers to be minimal — approximately a 0.1 percent increase in the average electric bill.

The world market price for uranium would also decline as U.S. companies increase global supply. So, utilities could see a price reduction for the 75 percent of uranium they would still be able to purchase from global producers, while the price for the remaining 25 percent would be similar to what utilities paid just a few years ago. We believe this is a small price to pay for U.S. national security.

State-owned entities in antagonistic governments are targeting our energy industry. We must ensure that a domestic nuclear fuel cycle, including uranium mining, survives.  

If we cede control of a critical fuel to Russia and its allies, the threat to our security is incalculable.   

Mark Chalmers is president and CEO of Energy Fuels. Jeffrey Klenda is president and CEO of Ur-Energy. Both firms work in the uranium industry.