House appropriators request more details on US uranium reserve

16 July 2020

The US House Committee on Appropriations has denied a funding request from the US Department of Energy (DOE) for fiscal 2021 for establishing a uranium stockpile. The committee requested further information from the department on the justification for the reserve and how it will be implemented.

The White Mesa mill is the only operational conventional uranium mill in the USA (Image: Energy Fuels)

The US Administration's 2021 budget request unveiled on 10 February by President Donald Trump included USD150 million to set up a uranium reserve to address challenges to the production of domestic uranium. This reserve would ensure a backup supply of uranium in the event of a significant market disruption and support the operation of at least two US uranium mines, according to the DOE. It will begin with the purchase of uranium from US mines and of US conversion services.

However, in a 13 July report accompanying the House energy and water development appropriations bill for fiscal 2021, which begins on 1 October, the committee said the DOE "has been unable to provide specific information about how it would implement the programme, including in congressional justifications, briefings, and in responses to questions from the committee about how the funds would be spent, including the process for the purchase, conversion, or sale of uranium in a reserve".

The committee said it is concerned about "the lack of justification for a reserve and potential market implications of establishing a reserve for commercial purposes". It also noted the DOE "will require a domestic source of uranium for defence purposes in the coming decades".

The committee requested DOE submit a plan for the proposed establishment of a uranium reserve within 180 days. The plan, it said, shall include the legal authorities in place or needed to establish and operate a uranium reserve, including the purchase, conversion, and sale of uranium; a ten-year implementation plan of the activities for establishment and operations of a uranium reserve; and a ten-year cost estimate.

"No funds are provided for the establishment of a uranium reserve, and no funds may be spent on activities related to the establishment of a uranium reserve other than the development of the required plan," the report stated.

Uranium production in the USA has been on a steady decline since the early 1980s as its nuclear power plant operators replaced domestic uranium production with less expensive imports. About 90% of the uranium fuel used today in US reactors is produced by other countries. Last year, the USA produced around 174,000 pounds of uranium, the lowest annual total in more than 70 years.

Directly purchasing uranium by establishing a uranium reserve, ending the DOE's bartering of uranium and re-evaluating the department's excess uranium inventory management policy were among the US Nuclear Fuel Working Group's (NFWG's) recommendations to the US Administration in a strategy it published on 23 April on reviving the USA's nuclear fuel cycle. President Trump established the NFWG on 12 July last year to undertake a fuller analysis of national security considerations with respect to the entire nuclear fuel supply chain.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News