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Nichols Ranch

Brian Thacker, a technician for Energy Fuels, swabs a well to remove mineral deposits in 2017 at the Nichols Ranch uranium mine in the Powder River Basin. 

For decades now, those of us working in and around the Wyoming uranium mining industry have been forced to watch its decline — and the damage to too many livelihoods. The culprit? An increase in below-production-cost uranium imports from state-sponsored enterprises in countries that are not America’s friends.

Over the past three decades, cheap imports from state-sponsored enterprises in Russia and allied nations have flooded the global uranium market. China is now following in those footsteps. Free market players, including the U.S., Canada and Australia, are suffering. This year, America’s uranium mining industry will produce less than 2 percent of what the country’s nuclear power plants use. In 2019, that number will plummet to less than one percent. Canada and Australia are closing mines too. In fact, only a single uranium mine operates in Canada today.

None of this is an accident. Adversarial nations are implementing a disciplined, deliberate strategy to leverage trade and policy programs to gain a military and economic edge. They seek — and are gaining — monopolies in critical natural resources to send this message: We can hold hostage your energy infrastructure.

Evidence of their strategy abounds. The administration says that China has been stealing U.S. nuclear technology to gain a competitive edge and divert our technology for Beijing’s military use.

Earlier this year, the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI announced that the Russian government staged a multi-year cyberattack against the U.S. energy grid and other critical infrastructure. That infiltration dates back to at least March 2016.

We in the domestic uranium mining industry have been trying to sound the alarm about the geopolitical goals and tactics of Russia and its allies. But our warning went unheeded until this summer when the Department of Commerce launched an investigation into the effects of uranium imports on national security under Section 232 of the 1962 Trade Expansion Act.

Day by day, free market uranium production is diminishing while Russia and China continue their assault on U.S. national security.

A recent Department of Defense-led review of America’s defense industrial base concludes that the Chinese government leverages its monopoly on key natural resources to undermine U.S. defense infrastructure. China floods world markets with certain materials with the specific goal of undercutting America’s lead in critical capabilities and driving U.S. suppliers out of business.

In the spring, the Russian Duma passed a bill giving Vladimir Putin authority to “stop cooperation” with critical U.S. industries, including nuclear. President Putin signed the bill into law, granting him the power to halt uranium imports if he chooses. The world knows that Russia does not hesitate to wield energy resources as a weapon.

There is no doubt that it is perilous to rely on Russia and China for uranium supplies. We are gratified that the administration is investigating the danger. We look forward to remedies that will support uranium mining in Wyoming, preserve the U.S. uranium mining industry — and protect U.S. national security.

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Mark Chalmers is president and CEO of Energy Fuels Resources (USA) Inc., and John Cash is president of Pathfinders Mines Corp.

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