Commerce Department Probes US Reliance on Imported Uranium

Cornelia Mascio
Luglio 21, 2018

The Commerce Department has started an investigation into the impact of uranium imports on US national security, a move that could limit future imports and add another front to the Trump administration's trade fight.

U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said on Wednesday that the investigation was prompted by a petition from two U.S. uranium mining companies.

The probe will cover the entire uranium sector, from the mining industry to enrichment, defense and industrial consumption, the department said.

"Our production of uranium necessary for military and electric power has dropped from 49 percent of our consumption to 5 percent", Ross said, suggesting that to be so overwhelmingly dependent on imports could jeopardize USA security.

"The Department of Commerce's Bureau of Industry and Security will conduct a thorough, fair, and transparent review to determine whether uranium imports threaten to impair national security", Ross in a statement.

The investigation is the latest of several trade-related steps the Trump administration has taken with an eye toward imposing stiff tariffs on imports.

The Trump administration said Wednesday it is starting an investigation into uranium imports, potentially opening another front in an expansive trade war that has shaken alliances with countries around the world. US uranium miners supply less than 5 per cent of domestic consumption for the metal and say it's increasingly hard to compete with state-subsidized companies overseas.

Canada was the largest individual foreign supplier, producing 35% of uranium purchases by US plants.

The United States imported $1.4 billion worth of enriched uranium a year ago, along with $470 million in uranium ores and $1.8 billion in uranium compounds and alloys, according to Commerce Department data.

"While U.S. producers can fairly compete with foreign production on a level playing field, it is hard for them to compete with heavily subsidized foreign production", they said in a joint statement. U.S. uranium production fell to 2.4 million pounds in 2017, down 61 per cent over the last decade, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The U.S. uranium industry wants the government to shield it from competition from state-owned companies in countries including Russian Federation and Kazakhstan.

Cameco Corp., the Saskatchewan-based uranium company that accounts for 18 per cent of the world's uranium production and sells 30 per cent of its uranium to the United States, said it's too early to know the effect of the investigation. Nuclear-power producers have responded by warning that sharp restrictions on uranium imports could lead to the closure of plants. USA reactors burn roughly 50 million pounds of uranium each year, with Canada and Kazakhstan each supplying roughly 25 per cent of that amount. We encourage steps that will help to protect the nation's uranium mining industry - the loss of domestic mining would have a significant detrimental impact on U.S. strategic interests.

"Maintaining all the elements of the domestic uranium fuel supply is in our national interest and we urge the federal government to take appropriate action, without harming the fleet of nuclear reactors", Maria G. Korsnick, head of the Nuclear Energy Institute, said in a statement.

The investigation comes a day before the department holds a hearing on whether the imports of automobiles and automotive parts threaten USA national security.

The companies that requested the trade case asked that the Commerce Department limit imports so that 25 percent of the uranium used in the United States would be produced domestically.

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