WASHINGTON – A plea from uranium mining companies and nuclear power plant operators for tax breaks and other federal financial boosts is going before President Donald Trump, as his administration studies reviving the U.S. uranium industry in the name of national security. Trump is scheduled to receive recommendations Thursday from a task force of national security, military and other federal officials about ways to revive U.S. uranium mining, which has lagged against global competition amid low uranium ore prices. Uranium is a vital component for the country's nuclear arsenal, submarines and nuclear power plants. U.S. uranium users get about 10 percent of their supply from domestic sources, the federal Energy Information Administration has said. Most of the rest comes from Canada and Australia, followed by Russia and former Soviet republics.
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.
FILE - In this Sept. 14, 2004, file photo, Smith Ranch-Highland employee, April Frausto, samples water for contamination, at a monitoring well on the perimeter of the uranium mining zone 30 miles north of Douglas, Wyo. The Environmental Protection Agency is reconsidering plans to require groundwater at former uranium mines to be restored to conditions similar to those that existed before mining began.
A powerful court ruled on Tuesday that an Obama-era ban on new uranium mines around the Grand Canyon should stay in place, though celebration on the environment side was tempered by expectations the government itself will now side with mining interests to end the ban. A separate, but linked, ruling on an older mine was a defeat for a Native American tribe.
A next-generation, small nuclear plant will be built at a soon-to-be retired coal-fired power plant in Wyoming in the next several years, business and government officials said Wednesday. The plant featuring a sodium reactor and molten salt energy storage system will perform better, be safer and cost less than traditional nuclear power, Microsoft co-founder and TerraPower founder and chairman Bill Gates said. Bellevue, Wash.-based TerraPower is working with Rocky Mountain Power, an electric utility serving Wyoming and other Western states, to put the Natrium reactor at one of four of the utility's power plants in Wyoming, with the location to be decided later this year. "We think Natrium will be a game-changer for the energy industry," Gates said by video link to a news conference hosted by Gov. Mark Gordon. "Wyoming has been a leader in energy for over a century, and we hope our investment in Natrium will help Wyoming to stay in the lead for many decades to come."