Commerce report could be a boost for US uranium companies
Coming on the heels of announced plans to boost production of critical minerals in the United States, two uranium companies, Ur-Energy and Energy Fuels, said they are confident limits on uranium imports will be implemented as part of the plan.
Uranium is among the 35 minerals deemed critical to the nation’s security and economy by the U.S. Geological Survey. The Commerce Department has recommended urgent steps to boost domestic production of those minerals.
Reuters reported that the White House is currently reviewing a petition lodged by Ur-Energy and Energy Fuels, that asks the president to require that at least a quarter of U.S. uranium needs are filled by domestic supply, and requiring U.S. federal power utilities and agencies to buy U.S. uranium.
Trump is expected to decide on the petition by July.
“It’s clear that the administration recognizes that relying on imported uranium creates a strategic vulnerability for our economy, military and overall security,” Paul Goranson, chief operating officer of Energy Fuels, and John Cash, vice president of regulatory affairs at Ur-Energy Inc, said in a joint statement to Reuters. “We are confident that he will recognize the danger of imported uranium and use his authority to address this threat and protect U.S. national security.”
The Commerce Department’s (ME, June 4) report was issued after Chinese officials suggested rare earths and other critical minerals could be used as leverage in the trade war between the world’s largest economic powers. The report was initially due for release late last year.
U.S. reliance on foreign minerals has worried U.S. officials since 2010, when China - a major global source of the minerals - embargoed exports to Japan during a diplomatic row.
The Commerce report included 61 specific recommendations - including low-interest loans and “Buy American” requirements for defense companies - to boost domestic production of minerals.
The measures would throw a lifeline to the struggling domestic uranium mining industry, which in 2017 saw production fall to near historic lows. Current uranium prices are hovering in the mid-$20s/lb compared to highs over $140/lb in 2007.
However, some Western Democratic lawmakers and environmental groups raised concerns on that greenlighting measures to boost domestic production would put iconic Western landscapes and sacred tribal lands at risk.
The Commerce Department report recommended that both the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service review all areas that are currently “withdrawn” – or protected - from development and assess whether those restrictions should be lifted or reduced to allow for critical mineral development.
It also proposed altering how the Interior Department and its agencies review mining projects under the bedrock National Environmental Policy Act, urging expedited environmental studies and identifying minerals which can be excluded from environmental reviews.