Wyoming has a long and proud history of uranium mining. The industry once employed thousands of people and provided a significant and diverse tax base for our state. However, the domestic uranium mining industry is eroding rapidly due to our country’s increasing dependence on foreign sources of uranium, particularly from Russia and its allies.
That’s why our companies – Ur-Energy USA Inc. and Energy Fuels Resources (USA) Inc., which both have workers and operations in Wyoming – petitioned the U.S. Department of Commerce (DOC) earlier this year to initiate an investigation into the effects of uranium imports on national security under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962. In mid-July, the DOC began that investigation, taking a major step toward ensuring our national security and ensuring that no nation gains the power to hold us hostage to its geopolitical goals.
For years, state-owned enterprises in Russia, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan have flooded the U.S. with government-subsidized, cheap uranium and nuclear fuel, currently supplying about one-third of U.S. demand. That percentage is expected to increase as our close allies in countries like Australia and Canada continue to significantly reduce their production in response to market pressure from Russia and its allies. China’s state-owned enterprises now target our market, too.
In the face of this growing threat, our domestic industry is expected to supply less than 2 percent of the uranium used to fuel U.S. nuclear power plants in 2018. In fact, domestic uranium production has fallen so far that it is at its lowest level since the late 1940s. Closer to home, employment in Wyoming’s uranium mining sector has declined from 5,300 in the late 1970s to fewer than 245 people today.
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Because nuclear power generates nearly 20 percent of U.S. electricity, our rivals have already seized control of a large portion of our energy infrastructure.
Considering that international law mandates domestically sourced uranium for military and defense purposes, our country’s perilous position becomes abundantly clear. Indeed, according to a Department of Energy report to Congress in 2015, key government and military programs may run out of uranium as soon as the mid-2020s.
As part of our petition, we propose sensible solutions to the challenges facing our energy infrastructure. We recommend a quota that would, in effect, reserve 25 percent of the U.S. market for domestic uranium and implement a “Buy American” policy for government agencies that use uranium. These are the least onerous solutions to a looming national crisis and come with a negligible cost. The benefits to our national and energy security are incalculable.
Even in today’s environment, Wyoming is still a leader in uranium mining and currently accounts for more than 90 percent of the uranium produced in the U.S. We encourage Wyoming’s citizens to submit comments to DOC to express your concerns regarding the role the state’s uranium plays in our national security and economy.
Now that the DOC has taken this first step, we look forward to a thorough and efficient process. The stakes could not be higher.
Paul Goranson is chief operating officer of Energy Fuels Resources (Inc.) and John Cash is vice president of Ur-Energy USA Inc.