Trump administration looks to support domestic uranium industry

April 24, 2020

The Trump administration unveiled a plan aimed at boosting the U.S. nuclear energy industry and in turn, the domestic uranium mining sector.

Reuters reported that the administration recommended granting U.S. energy regulators the ability to block imports of nuclear fuel from Russia and China and detailed plans for setting up a government stockpile of uranium sourced from domestic miners.

Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette said the report from the Nuclear Fuel Working Group was a “road map for what we think needs to be done to not only revitalize but re-establish American leadership in this entire industry.”

The report recommended enabling the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to deny imports of certain uranium supplies from Russia and China for national security purposes.

It also recommended that the Commerce Department extend the Russian Suspension Agreement, which established a maximum cap for imports of Russian uranium to 20 percent of the U.S. market, “to protect against future uranium dumping.” It suggested “further lowering the cap” on Russian imports in the agreement, which expires this year.

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.

The report mentioned TVEL, a unit of Russian state-owned Rosatom, which launched a project in 2008 to develop replacement fuel for reactors using U.S. technology abroad and in the United States. That project is on hold, but would pose a risk to the U.S. nuclear industry if revived, it said.

The report also recommended the U.S. government set up a uranium reserve allowing it to make direct purchases of uranium from domestic producers. Trump’s budget released in February proposed $1.5 billion over 10 years for the creation of a uranium reserve, but Congress has yet to act on it.

Brouillette said it was possible Trump would issue executive orders to support the findings of the report, which also sought to boost research and development of new reactor technologies, and streamline permitting for uranium mining.

Energy Fuels Inc and Ur-Energy Inc, as well as more than two dozen Western state lawmakers, have argued that U.S. nuclear generators rely too heavily on foreign suppliers, including Russia, China and Kazakhstan. Canada has also long been a top supplier of uranium to the United States.

Maria Korsnick, chief executive of the Nuclear Energy Institute, the industry’s lobby group, thanked “the administration for its support to revitalize and bolster” the sector.

The U.S. nuclear energy industry is virtually emissions-free but suffering from high safety costs and low prices for natural gas, a competitor in generating power. Since 2013, about nine nuclear plants have closed, and eight are scheduled to close in coming years.

Photo: Energy Fuels’ White Mesa mill.

 

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