WASHINGTON - U.S. President Donald Trump says he will not impose quotas on importing uranium, backing away from a possible trade confrontation and breaking with a Commerce Department assessment that America's use of foreign uranium raises national security concerns. The decision is unusual for Trump, who has pointed to national security concerns in calling for restrictions on foreign metal and autos in trade negotiations. It is also drawing rare criticism from Republicans in energy-rich states. Uranium is a vital component for the U.S. nuclear arsenal, submarines and power plants, which prompted a monthslong Commerce Department investigation into whether such materials fall under the national security umbrella. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has said that just 5 percent of the uranium the U.S. needs for military and electricity generation comes from domestic production.
Signs on the gates of an abandoned uranium mine in Red Water Pond, Navajo Nation. On Thursday morning, Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette announced "an array of policy options to restore America's leadership in nuclear energy" by reducing the nation's dependence on foreign uranium suppliers. Compiled by the Nuclear Fuel Working Group over the past nine months, the recommendations amount to a thinly veiled exercise in crony capitalism: streamlining the permitting process for uranium mining on public lands, creating a new federal uranium reserve, and allocating $150 million per year to stock that reserve with domestically mined uranium. According to the Department of Commerce, importing uranium from countries like Russia and Kazahkstan "creates strategic vulnerabilities to both our economy and military." This logic, echoed by the Department of Energy's announcement and recent statements by Republican lawmakers, implies that foreign adversaries could exploit US reliance on their uranium to disrupt our production of nuclear energy and weapons.
In the wake of Uranium One, some lawmakers are now calling for further investigation into Russian influence on U.S. nuclear supply. As questions and investigations about Russian influence in our election process continue, what many Americans may not realize is that adversarial countries, like Russia, stand to have an outsized influence over our power grid. Uranium, which is on an Interior Department target list of critical minerals, fuels nuclear power plants, which generate 20 percent of electricity in the United States. It also helps power U.S. Navy assets. One pound of uranium is equivalent to 20,000 pounds of coal.
WASHINGTON – The Commerce Department has started an investigation into the impact of uranium imports on U.S. national security, a move that could limit future imports and add another front to the Trump administration's trade fight. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said Wednesday that the United States produces just 5 percent of the uranium it needs for the U.S. military and for electricity generation, down from nearly half in 1987. The probe follows an earlier national security investigation into steel and aluminum imports, which resulted in steep 25 percent duties on shipments of the metals from the European Union, Canada, Mexico, China and Japan. A second investigation, focused on the threat to security posed by auto imports, is ongoing. Those investigations are unusual in their reliance on a national security justification for limiting imports in such broad categories -- or potentially limiting them, in the case of autos -- from close U.S. allies.
The U.S. Commerce Department has recommended the White House take steps to protect the domestic production of uranium after finding the nation's reliance on imports was a national security risk, according to three people briefed on the matter. Among the trade remedies recommended is to require nuclear power plants to purchase a minimum of 5 percent of the radioactive fuel from U.S. mines, said the people who requested anonymity to discuss non-public deliberations. Two of the people said an option under consideration would see the quota escalate by 5 percentage points a year. A decision to impose the quotas would be a boon to the two small mining companies that petitioned the Commerce Department to take action, Energy Fuels Inc. and Ur-Energy Inc. The move would increase costs for nuclear reactor operators that are already struggling in the face of competition from cheaper sources of power generated by natural gas and renewables.