Draft agreement seeks to lower uranium imports from Russia

September 15, 2020

In an effort to boost mining and nuclear energy in the United States, the U.S. Commerce Department inked a draft agreement with Russia’s state nuclear energy company to reduce imports of uranium from Russia over the next 20 years from 20 percent to 15 percent.

“If finalized, it will contribute to the restoration of America’s nuclear energy advantage and protect the domestic industry from dumped Russian uranium,” said Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.

Reuters reported that the Commerce Department and Rosatom initialed the draft amendment to the 1992 Russian Suspension Agreement to prevent dumping of uranium from Russia, extending that deal to the year 2040 and gradually reduce the amount of uranium the U.S. imports from Russia for enrichment starting in 2028.

The draft amendment was one of the recommendations made by the interagency Nuclear Fuel Working Group to address concern in Washington that the United States has ceded its global leadership in nuclear technology, and to boost domestic nuclear power producers and uranium miners suffering from a lack of investment.

The amendment would let U.S. companies that have existing uranium purchase contracts with Russia keep them intact.

The Commerce Department won important concessions from Russia, including lower quotas starting in the mid-2020's, allowing only a portion of the quotas to be used for the sale of U3O8 and conversion into the U.S., and strict controls on Russian enrichment service contracts.

The Commerce Department aims to finalize the amendment by Oct. 5 and will take comment on it until Sept. 28.

U.S. President Donald Trump created the working group last July after rejecting a request by two U.S. uranium mining companies, Energy Fuels Inc and Ur-Energy Inc, seeking quotas for domestic uranium production to protect them against foreign competition. Energy Fuels welcomed the news, but also cautioned that the deal allows Russia to continue to import uranium in the short-term.

“This is a critical step in restoring U.S. leadership in the global nuclear fuel sector and helping to revive the U.S. uranium mining industry,” said Mark S. Chalmers, President and CEO of Energy Fuels. “While we are pleased with the long-term prospects available to established U.S. uranium producers like Energy Fuels, the shorter-term picture for the U.S. uranium industry still remains uncertain. Even though Commerce has negotiated lower quotas starting in the mid-2020’s, the agreement allows for the ‘grandfathering’ of existing contracts between U.S. nuclear utilities and Russian state-owned enterprises, which will actually result in Russian uranium imports into the U.S. increasing during the next three years, before decreasing in the mid 2020’s. While the agreement does a good job at blocking Russia’s stated intention to expand its share of the U.S. uranium market over the long-term, it only provides U.S. uranium miners with limited immediate relief. Today’s announcement therefore highlights the importance and urgency of Congress appropriating the funds requested by the U.S. Department of Energy to support the strategic Uranium Reserve recommended by the U.S. Nuclear Fuel Working Group. Establishing the Uranium Reserve now will help ensure that U.S. uranium production capabilities can benefit from the long-term restrictions imposed under the extended RSA. We also support the efforts of Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming to put this agreement into law 'so Russia cannot walk away from the deal' in the future.

 

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