The Trump administration announced Wednesday that it will initiate a Section 232 investigation into whether uranium imports into the United States threaten to impair U.S. national security.
That’s good news for Wyoming, which has the largest uranium reserves in the U.S., estimated at about 106 million pounds at $30 per pound and 350 million pounds at $50 per pound, according to the Wyoming Mining Association. However, a recent report found that domestic uranium comprised only 7 percent of the total uranium delivered to civilian nuclear power reactors in America. Russia is suspected of improperly lowering the price of its uranium to attract U.S. utility buyers.
“We are certainly pleased with the decision (to initiate a Section 232 investigation),” Wyoming Mining Association CEO Travis Deti told the Business Report. “Wyoming’s producers are clearly at a competitive disadvantage with foreign competitors like Russia and Kazakhstan. These countries and others have been undermining our domestic industry for a very long time, and the decision by the administration to initiate the Section 232 investigation is highly appropriate.”
Indeed, Wyoming’s uranium production has been on such a downward trend that on Jan. 16, American uranium producers Energy Fuels and Ur-Energy jointly submitted a petition for relief, under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962, to the Commerce Department to investigate the effects of uranium imports, from foreign state-owned firms, on America’s national security.
The next month, in February, Cameco, the U.S. subsidiary of the world’s largest uranium company, shuttered its U.S. headquarters in Casper. Cameco had moved to the Cowboy State with great fanfare in 2010, just a year or so before the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster triggered the latest downturn.
Also in February, Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., authored an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal titled “America’s Self-Imposed Uranium Shortage,” where he called on the Trump administration to take action against foreign state-owned uranium producers importing into the United States.
In the piece, Barrasso wrote, “The Trump administration should expedite this investigation and take steps to make sure our uranium producers can compete on a level playing field.”
On March 21, at a Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works oversight hearing of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Barrasso called for the Commerce Department to begin an investigation into uranium imports. Barrasso also questioned NRC Chairwoman Kristine Svinicki on the importance of uranium production to America’s national security.
During a hearing in June, Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., pressed Commerce Department Secretary Wilbur Ross to immediately initiate an investigation, noting that America’s continued reliance on foreign uranium could threaten the nation’s ability to maintain nuclear weapons and put large parts of the power grid under the indirect influence of foreign powers. The Commerce Department’s investigation could result in tariffs, quotas or other protections for the U.S. uranium mining industry.
On July 12, at a Senate Committee on Foreign Relations hearing, Barrasso called on the administration to initiate a Section 232 investigation into uranium imports.
“I applaud Secretary Ross for taking this important step,” Barrasso said in a news release Wednesday. “For years, Russia, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan have undermined America’s uranium producers, including those in my home state of Wyoming. We shouldn’t rely on foreign regimes to supply America with uranium.”
In his own statement, Enzi added, “A robust domestic uranium mining industry is not only critical for national security, it’s essential for Wyoming’s economy. Wyoming is the largest producer of uranium, and it’s important our trade policies promote a global level playing field and discourage market manipulation by foreign adversaries. This appears to be a prime example of foreign countries threatening our national security through unfair trade practices.”