Two uranium production companies have announced that the U.S. Department of Commerce has initiated an investigation into the effects of uranium imports on U.S. national security. This investigation was requested by Energy Fuels and Ur-Energy in their petition for relief under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962 which was filed jointly by the companies on Jan. 16.
Energy Fuels operates the White Mesa Mill near Blanding.
As of July 18, the Secretary of Commerce has 270 days to conduct an investigation and submit a report to the White House containing the secretary’s findings and proposed remedy, if any, according to a press release from Energy Fuels. Following receipt of the secretary’s report, the president then has up to 90 days to act on the secretary’s recommendations and, if necessary, take action to “adjust the imports of an article and its derivatives” and/or pursue other lawful, non-trade-related actions necessary to address the import threat.
Energy Fuels and Ur-Energy requested that the DOC conduct its investigation due to the following factors:
In 2017, U.S. uranium production fell to near historic lows due, in large part, to uranium and nuclear fuel imported from state-subsidized foreign entities; 2018 domestic production is likely to be even lower, with first quarter 2018 production being 50 percent lower than in the first quarter of 2017.
“In 2017, imports of uranium from state-owned and state-subsidized enterprises in Russia, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan fulfilled about one-third of U.S. demand, while purchases of U.S. uranium by owners of U.S. nuclear reactors dropped by 46 percent,” said the release. “In 2018, domestic producers are projected to fulfill only about two percent of total U.S. commercial demand. Increasing levels of state-subsidized nuclear fuel are expected to be imported from Russia and China in the coming years, which would likely further displace U.S. uranium production. If Russia and its allies take control of this critical fuel, the threat to U.S. national and energy security would be incalculable.”
The report went on to say that “While U.S. producers can fairly compete with foreign production on a level playing field, it is difficult for them to compete with heavily subsidized foreign production. Foreign policies of other nations should not be permitted to jeopardize this crucial U.S. industry. A sustainable domestic uranium mining industry is vital to U.S. national security because it supplies uranium for essential defense needs and fuel for nuclear power plants that are a key component of the nation’s critical clean energy infrastructure.
Ur-Energy and Energy Fuels, both headquartered in Denver, are the two main U.S. uranium producers, together mining more than half of all U.S. uranium in 2017.
In the petition, the companies proposed two complementary remedies: (1) a quota that limits imports of uranium into the U.S., effectively reserving 25 percent of the U.S. market for domestic uranium production, and (2) a requirement for U.S. federal utilities and agencies to buy U.S. uranium in accordance with the president’s Buy American Policy. The companies’ proposed remedies are expected to result in U.S. utilities purchasing approximately 12 million pounds of uranium per year from U.S. production.
The proposed remedies are expected to restore a sustainable U.S. uranium mining industry, bolster national defense, and support energy security through reduced reliance on state-subsidized uranium and nuclear fuel imports from nations that compete with the U.S. for geopolitical influence and commercial advantage, the news release said.
An econometric model prepared in connection with the petition demonstrates that the effects of the proposed remedies on utilities and consumers are expected to be negligible.