For national security, impose quota on foreign uranium imports
Today, the Texas uranium mining industry is virtually silent. Indeed, across the U.S., this once-thriving industry now supplies only a small fraction of our domestic nuclear energy and defense requirements, threatening our energy independence and national security.
Along with many others, the U.S. Department of Commerce, or DOC, is now asking, why?
As the world’s largest consumer of uranium, the U.S. now produces only 5 percent of the uranium needed to supply 20 percent of our nation’s electricity, representing nearly 60 percent of our clean, zero-carbon electricity. As recently as 1987, almost 50 percent of our nuclear fuel consumption came from domestically produced sources.
Earlier this year, Energy Fuels Resources (USA) and Ur-Energy USA Inc. petitioned the DOC to investigate the adverse effects of uranium imports on national security under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962. The DOC began its investigation in July, taking a major step toward safeguarding our national security and ensuring that no nation gains the power to hold the U.S. hostage to its geopolitical goals.
Here in Texas, we have a proud 60-year history of mining more than 8 million pounds of uranium. When uranium mining was active (as recently as 2011), the industry contributed enormously to the state economy, creating $311 million in annual economic output, while supporting more than 1,100 jobs — mostly in poorer, rural communities — and contributing more than $78 million in wages, salaries and benefits, according to a Center for Economic Development and Research study conducted by the University of North Texas.
Today, state-owned enterprises in Russia, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan are flooding the U.S. with government-subsidized, cheap uranium and nuclear fuel, currently supplying about one-third of U.S. demand. That percentage is expected to increase as our close allies in countries such as Australia and Canada significantly reduce their production in response to market pressure from Russia and its allies. Additionally, our markets are being targeted by state-owned enterprises in China.
Considering that international law mandates that uranium for military and defense purposes be domestically sourced, our over-reliance on imported uranium places our country in an increasingly perilous position. Not surprisingly, the Department of Energy reported to Congress in 2015 that key government and military programs may run out of uranium as soon as the mid-2020s.
We encourage the DOC to determine why the United States has ceded so much control of this vital resource to foreign entities and to share its findings with the American public.
We look forward to working with state and federal officials to protect our energy independence and national security, and have proposed sensible solutions to these challenges. We recommend a quota that would, in effect, reserve 25 percent of the U.S. market for domestic uranium while implementing a “Buy American” policy for government agencies that use uranium. These are among the least onerous solutions and would help us to begin to resolve a looming national crisis with negligible cost. The benefits to our national and energy security are incalculable.
We applaud the DOC for its investigation, as domestically-produced uranium is one of our greatest sources of carbon-free electricity and a key component of our national defense. We encourage the public to submit comments using the link https://tinyurl.com/yclye83g to the DOC by today on an issue that is so vital to America’s energy independence and national security.
Paul Goranson is chief operating officer of EFR Alta Mesa LLC (an Energy Fuels company).