White House to form working group to study domestic uranium production

July 15, 2019

While acknowledging that the United States uranium industry is facing significant challenges, President Donald Trump announced the creation of the U.S. Nuclear Fuel Working Group to further study U.S. nuclear fuel consumption including uranium mining.

The move falls short of the recommendations from the Commerce Department that would have boosted the U.S. uranium mining industry that would have required utilities to purchase 5 percent of their uranium from domestic mines each year - rising 5 points per year until it reaches 25 percent. The recommendations from the Commerce Department came from a petition made by two U.S. uranium producers, Energy Fuels and Ur-Energy.

The Salt Lake Tribune reported that 26 members of Congress, signed a letter to Trump on Friday urging him to support the quotas.

"The U.S. has become too dependent on foreign powers for these essential components of our economy and defense,” the lawmakers stated.
U.S. nuclear power plants provide roughly 20 percent of the electricity in the U.S., but the vast majority of uranium fuels used in power generation are imported from Canada, Australia, Russia and Kazakhstan. The United States sourced just 7 percent of its uranium domestically in 2017, according to the Energy Information Administration.

Energy Fuels and Ur-Energy filed a request with the Commerce Department in early 2018 under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act, a provision that authorizes such quotas on the basis of national security.

The Commerce Department studied the proposal for nearly a year before Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross provided the White House a report on April 14, which recommended implementing quotas.

The memo signed by Trump on July12 stated the president did not concur with Ross’ finding that “uranium imports threaten to impair the national security of the United States as defined under section 232.”

Trump did, however, agree that impacts of the nuclear fuels supply chain on national security warrant further review. The order assigns a number of cabinet members including Interior Secretary a United States Nuclear Fuel Working Group, which will have 90 days to “develop recommendations for reviving and expanding domestic nuclear fuel production.”

The quota proposal drew criticism from environmental groups, who point to massive uranium-related cleanup operations dating back decades that are still underway across the Western United States.

The quotas were also opposed by the nuclear power industry. Last year, the Nuclear Energy Institute commissioned a white paper that analyzed potential impacts of requiring power plants to buy American uranium. The report concluded the quotas would drive up the cost of nuclear power, and possibly force some nuclear power plants out of business. Fuel costs for nuclear plants would shoot up by at least $500 million and as much as $800 million, according to the report, increasing the cost of electricity by up to $1 per megawatt hour.

In a July 3 statement, Energy Fuels and Ur-Energy disputed those claims, calling them “outrageous.”

U.S. companies aren’t producing enough uranium to power a single reactor, Mark Chalmers, chief executive officer of Energy Fuels, told Bloomberg, adding that prices would need to more than double to make it profitable to boost production.

“We have essentially surrendered the entire fuel cycle to China and Russia,” John Cash, vice president for regulatory affairs at Ur-Energy, told Bloomberg.
 

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