US uranium sector could get a boost from lawmakers considering a $4.3 billion plan
According to a published report from Bloomberg the U.S. uranium sector could get a boost as the Biden administration encourages lawmakers to support a $4.3 billion plan to buy enriched uranium directly from domestic producers to wean the U.S. off Russian imports of the nuclear-reactor fuel.
The report cited people familiar with the matter who said U.S. Energy Department officials have met with key congressional staff, where they said such funding is urgently needed. The sources are not authorized to publicly discuss the information. Energy officials made the case that any interruption in the supply of enriched Russian uranium could cause operational disruptions at commercial nuclear reactors. U.S. nuclear energy industry participants have also been briefed on the proposal, said a second person familiar with the details. The plan requires approval from Congress.
The proposal aims to spur development of more domestic enrichment and other steps needed to turn uranium into reactor fuel, the person said. It would create a government buyer directly purchasing enriched uranium, including the type used in a new breed of advanced reactors now under development.
Currently the United States has one enrichment facility in New Mexico, a plant owned by Urenco Ltd., a British-German-Dutch consortium.
The Global X Uranium ETF, an exchange-traded fund focused on the industry, jumped as much as 7.4 percent to its highest intraday price in a month on the news. Shares of uranium miners including Cameco Corp. and Energy Fuels Inc. soared along with nuclear fuel provider Centrus Energy Corp.
The talks come as the Biden administration contemplates slapping sanctions on enriched uranium imports from Russia in response to the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine while considering prospects that Russia could also decide to halt imports. Russia accounted for 16.5 percent of the uranium imported into the U.S. in 2020 and 23 percent of the enriched uranium needed to power U.S. commercial nuclear reactors.
The Energy Department didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment, however Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm has called the U.S. reliance on Russian imports a “vulnerability” for national and economic security, while drawing attention to the fact that US enrichment capacity has waned in part because of competition from state-subsidized sources.
The proposal dovetails with legislation introduced earlier this year by Senator Joe Manchin, the West Virginia Democrat who serves as a key swing vote, and Senator Jim Risch, an Idaho Republican, that would authorize billions of dollars in funding to increase the country’s domestic uranium enrichment capabilities. Other congressional backers of expanding US enrichment capabilities include Senator John Barrasso, a Wyoming Republican who serves as the top GOP member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
Companies that could benefit from such a plan include Centrus Energy, the Bethesda, Maryland-based firm that is building an enrichment facility in Ohio, and ConverDyn, a joint venture between Honeywell International Inc. and General Atomics that provides uranium conversion services.