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Russia and now China eye control of the global nuclear industry

The U.S. uranium mining industry has been devastated. This year, we expect it will provide less than 2 percent of the uranium that our country’s nuclear power plants need to produce 20 percent of our electricity — the lowest U.S. supply level since before the Cold War.

This is no accident. We believe this is a deliberate result of strategies by rival countries to increasingly dominate the global nuclear marketplace and undercut U.S. national and energy security.

More than one-third of uranium imports now come from state-sponsored enterprises in Russia and its satellites. That number is expected to increase as imports from allies such as Canada, Australia, and Namibia decrease. These government-owned industries employ what many would consider to be unfair trade practices that flood the global market with cheap uranium and nuclear fuel. Now China is following in their footsteps.

The Department of Defense-led analysis of the U.S. defense industrial base ordered by President Trump has been released. It describes how the Chinese government leverages its monopoly on certain natural resources to undermine the United States. China’s goal, according to many experts, is to force U.S. suppliers in critical industries out of business.

The strategy is working. Six uranium mines in the U.S. have been forced to close in recent years because of artificially low prices. Allied uranium mining has been felled by the same geopolitical weapon. In Canada, only one uranium mine remains in operation, down from four in 2014. Soon, one of the largest uranium mines in Australia will shut down.

And on Nov. 26, it was announced that Anglo-Australian mining giant Rio Tinto is selling its Rossing mine, one of the world’s largest uranium mines, to state-owned China National Uranium Corporation. This mine, located in the Republic of Namibia, has been a major free-market supplier of uranium since the mid-1970s. CNUC is part of China National Nuclear Corporation, which is also the primary creditor and owner of 25 percent of the neighboring Langer Heinrich mine. State-owned China General Nuclear owns 90 percent of the Husab mine, the other major uranium mine in Namibia. Once Rossing is sold to CNUC, Chinese state-owned companies will dominate Namibian uranium production.

To make matters worse, the supply of uranium required for our national defense is fast disappearing. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. is reliant on a “finite and diminishing” stockpile of highly enriched uranium that is being drawn down more quickly than expected. In fact, the DOE is expected to start purchasing uranium to replenish the stockpile as soon as 2025. How will that be possible without a viable domestic uranium mining industry?

Given that Russia and China have a long history of deploying their state-owned energy industries as tools of foreign policy, the status quo is perilous. That is why we commend the U.S. Department of Commerce for rigorously investigating uranium imports into the U.S. and the effect of those imports on national security.

There is no time to lose. The DOC must move swiftly to complete the investigation. We proposed two common-sense remedies: a quota that, in effect, reserves 25 percent of the U.S. market for domestic uranium and a “buy American” policy for U.S. government purchasers of uranium. The cost of our proposed solutions is expected to be infinitesimal — only 20 cents per month for the average consumer.

That is a small price to pay for the ability to thwart the geopolitical ambitions of rival countries that may be trying to influence our national security.

Source: Washington Examiner