A group of Republican lawmakers from mostly western states is urging President Trump to impose quotas on uranium imported from Russia and elsewhere as a matter of national security, saying the U.S. has become too dependent on adversaries for the fuel that powers everything from the electric grid to nuclear submarines.
“Our country’s growing dependence on foreign, state-owned sources of uranium is a threat to the national security and taking action to secure the domestic free market supply of this critical mineral is a national security imperative,” the lawmakers tell the president in a letter, a draft of which was obtained by The Washington Times.
They’re asking the president to set aside 25 percent of the U.S. uranium market for domestic production, and to require that the federal government “buy American” uranium.
Mr. Trump is facing a Saturday deadline to decide whether to impose quotas on imported uranium under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act, which gives the president the authority to investigate the national-security impact of imports and to take action if necessary.
The Commerce Department delivered its report on the uranium issue to the president in April after a nine-month investigation. The 90-day period for the president to make a decision expires on Saturday.
Nineteen Republican House members had signed the letter by late Thursday, most of them members of the Western Caucus, chaired by Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona.
The government action was requested by Energy Fuels and Ur-Energy, two Colorado-based companies who note that about 99 percent of the uranium consumed in the U.S. annually is imported.
Mark Chalmers, president and CEO of Energy Fuels, told The Washington Times in an interview Thursday that the petitioners are “two small companies fighting a very big battle.”
“The United States is the largest consumer of uranium — one-third of the world’s uranium,” Mr. Chalmers said. “Are we ready to throw the car keys at our political foes? We’re desperate. We need action now.”
About 40% of the U.S. supply of uranium comes from Russia and neighboring Kazakhstan.
Mr. Chalmers said the request for quotas is “right up Trump’s alley.”
“I don’t think the average American, or politician, wants to be that dependent on these other countries,” he said.
The nuclear-power plant industry is opposing the request for quotas, concerned about price increases for utility customers.
Energy Fuels chief operating officer William Paul Goranson said in 1980, the entire U.S. uranium industry employed about 25,000 workers, and was the largest source of uranium production in the world. But today the U.S. uranium mining industry is down to a total 370 employees, he said, and produces enough domestic uranium to fuel only one of the nation’s 98 electricity-generating nuclear reactors.
He said if foreign adversaries decided to interrupt the supply of uranium to the U.S., the situation would reach a crisis point within 18 months.
“Our petition is strong,” Mr. Chalmers said. “I think it’s received a good hearing with the government for the right reasons. This is what exactly what 232 was put in place for — national security.”
In their letter, the lawmakers tell Mr. Trump there is “no reason America should be importing 97-99% of the uranium necessary for domestic reactors from foreign countries when we have an ample supply here at home that will create good-paying jobs and be mined under higher standards that protect our environment.”
“It’s just common sense that the federal government shouldn’t be purchasing all our uranium for defense and other government needs from foreign countries that include China and Russia,” they said.
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