Comment period closes on US uranium investigation

02 October 2018

The US Department of Commerce (DOC) should not place any import limits or restrictions on uranium from Canadian producer Cameco, the company said in its submission to the DOC's ongoing Section 232 investigation. The comment period on the investigation has now closed.

The DOC's goals include fulfilling Constitutional requirements and supporting economic activity (Image: DOC)

The investigation was triggered by the filing in January by uranium mining companies Energy Fuels Inc and Ur-Energy of a petition - under Section 232 of the filed under the Trade Expansion Act of 1962 - requesting the DOC look into the effects of uranium imports on US national security. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross launched the investigation in July, after consultation with industry stakeholders, members of Congress, the Department of Defense, Department of Energy, and other administration partners.

A notice for public comments was issued on 25 July, with a deadline of 10 September which was subsequently extended to 25 September. Cameco filed its submission on the final day of the public comment period.

"With uranium operations in both the United States and Canada, we felt it important to provide our perspective to the DOC for consideration," Cameco's president and CEO Tim Gitzel said. "As a publicly traded company, we experience the same pressures in the current tough market as the US producers who petitioned for this investigation.

"However, as a strategic, friendly ally and the most dependable supplier of fuel for the American nuclear energy sector for many years, we contend that Cameco’s uranium does not impair US national security interests and should not be subject to any form of import restriction in the United States."

The company said its does not support the specific quota proposed by the petitioners, which it said was "unrealistic" in its estimate of feasible US uranium production, would be difficult to implement and could ultimately increase US dependence on uranium from the countries of concern listed in the petition. It also said that while the petitioner's complaints focused on imports from state-owned enterprises in specific countries "acting against market principles and creating an uneven playing field", the proposed broad-based quota would apply to all uranium imports and non-US producers whether publicly traded or government-run.

The company said a quota, if implemented, "should be applied solely to imports from state-owned enterprises from the countries named in the petition". The USA is Cameco's biggest customer by country, with about 30% of its total 2017 sales volume going to US utilities.

"No producer in the world has done more than Cameco in an effort to revive the weak global uranium market," the company, which has made production cuts since 2015 that have reduced annual supply by 24 million pounds, said. "Unfortunately, these efforts have impacted our Canadian and US operations most significantly, as we have now suspended production at four of our North American uranium mines. When these facilities were in full production, Cameco was the largest uranium producer in both the US and Canada."

Utilities against quotas

The Ad Hoc Utilities Group (AHUG), an organisation which represents US nuclear power generators, also urged the DOC to avoid placing tariffs or quotas on uranium imports, Reuters reported on 26 September. "Imposing additional regulatory burdens on the already struggling nuclear energy industry will put 100,000 good paying domestic jobs and careers at risk and is inconsistent with President Trump’s and the Department of Energy’s policy pronouncements," AHUG spokesperson David Tamasi said.

EnergyFuels and Ur-Energy's petition described how the loss of a viable US uranium mining industry would have a "significant detrimental impact" on the country's national, energy and economic security and its ability to sustain an independent nuclear fuel cycle. The petitioners called for a quota to limit imports of uranium into the USA, effectively reserving 25% of the US market for US uranium production, and also suggested that federal utilities and agencies be required to buy US uranium. These remedies could be expected to result in US utilities purchasing approximately 12 million pounds of uranium per year from US production, the companies said. US uranium operations produced a total of 1.2 million pounds in 2017.

The DOC has up to 270 days from the July launch date to conduct its investigation.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News