The U.S. could establish a national strategic uranium reserve for the first time in the country’s history, thanks to $75 million in funding included in the federal spending bill signed by President Donald Trump this week.
In addition, a piece of legislation passed in the giant omnibus funding bill would limit the import of uranium from Russia in favor of boosting uranium production in the U.S. This act aims to reduce the amount of uranium U.S. companies can purchase from Russian suppliers and incentivize the development of a domestic nuclear fuel supply chain.
The bipartisan legislation was introduced by Wyoming Republican Sen. John Barrasso and New Mexico Democratic Sen. Martin Heinrich back in September.
Barrasso saw both the uranium reserve, and adopted legislation, as big wins for Wyoming’s mineral industry, though some conservation and taxpayer advocates criticized the federal government for providing the country’s uranium industry with a lifeline.
“The creation and funding of a national uranium reserve is long overdue,” Barrasso said in a statement. “This reserve will help preserve and strengthen uranium production in Wyoming and ensure America will always have the fuel it needs to power our nuclear reactors.”
Nuclear fuel can be harnessed in power stations to produce electricity without emitting carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas causing climate change. But to make nuclear fuel, you first need uranium.
Right now, most utility companies in the country import inexpensive uranium from state-run producers abroad, displacing demand for U.S. production of the commodity.
State-owned uranium companies run by other countries can often deflate prices and make it difficult for U.S. companies to compete.
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, an impartial energy data center, 90% of uranium purchased by U.S. nuclear power reactors comes from outside the country. About 13% of uranium was imported from Russia in 2018.
Owners of nuclear power reactors bought the vast majority of uranium from Canada, Kazakhstan and Australia in 2018. Only about 10% of their supply came from U.S. companies.
Each time a company decides to import uranium from abroad, that’s one less customer purchasing uranium from the leading producer of the fuel in the country: Wyoming.
Wyoming holds rich uranium deposits and leads the nation in uranium mining. But domestic mining for the metal has rapidly declined, as companies turn to markets abroad to purchase the critical material.
Wyoming energy groups have been pressing Trump for years to institute new trade policies, like quotas, to intensify domestic demand of uranium. Nonetheless, not all Wyomingites agree and critics of boosting uranium mining again in the country worry the practice would threaten the environment or public safety.
In addition to establishing a national strategic uranium reserve to boost demand for the commodity, the act would also give the Nuclear Regulatory Commission the ability to block imports of uranium from Russia and China if it “poses a threat to the national security of the United States,” according to the bill.
Proponents of the legislation contend the changes will bolster national energy security and independence, while also accelerating the use of a carbon-free electricity source. In addition, the act would establish a competition to spur technological development.
Energy Fuels Inc., the largest uranium company in the country, praised the $75 million in funding allocated to the reserve.
“This key funding opens the door for the U.S. government to purchase domestically-produced uranium to guard against potential commercial and national security risks presented by our country’s near-total reliance on foreign imports of uranium,” the company wrote in a statement.
Travis Deti, executive director of the Wyoming Mining Association, said the legislation would be helpful for Wyoming’s uranium industry if the next presidential administration follows through on creating the reserve.
However, he said the industry had been hoping for closer to $150 million allocated for the reserve, as initially recommended by the Nuclear Fuel Working Group. Ultimately, the bill provides half that amount.
Still, many conservation groups were far less enthused about the latest developments in support of uranium.
Joshua Axelrod and Geoffrey Fettus of the Natural Resources Defense Council called the uranium reserve “a wasteful government handout meant to prop up uneconomical, polluting domestic uranium mining when there is no threat of a shortage to U.S. uranium supplies.”
Instead, the conservation organization has called on the federal government to dedicate taxpayer money to “clean, safe and cheap” energy technologies, like wind, solar and energy storage.
Source: Star Tribune