US Senate committee includes uranium reserve in FY2021 allocations

12 November 2020

Fiscal 2021 allocations released yesterday by the US Senate Committee on Appropriations include USD150 million to initiate the uranium reserve programme to address challenges to the production of domestic uranium. The bills provide appropriations for the fiscal year running from 1 October, 2020 to 30 September, 2021 and also include continued funding for the Advanced Reactors Demonstration Program.

(Image: US Senate Committee on Appropriations)

Senator Richard Shelby, chairman of the committee, said the 12 FY2021 funding measures and subcommittee allocations were "by and large" the product of bipartisan cooperation among members of the committee. They have not, as would normally be the case, been subjected to committee "mark ups" and consideration by the full Senate. The committee's vice chairman, Senator Patrick Leahy, said he was "disappointed" that all members had not been given the chance to publicly debate them, but agreed with Shelby on "the importance of completing our work on the 12 bills" before the 11 December deadline if a government shutdown is to be averted.

The proposed funding for the uranium reserve comes from the Energy and Water Development (USD120 million) and Defense Non-proliferation provisions (USD30 million). The DOE would be required to provide a "specific program plan" for "executing" the funds, as well as plans to consolidate the programme with other "existing uranium management activities" to create efficiencies.

Establishment of a uranium reserve was recommended in April by a presidential working group tasked with analysing national security considerations with respect to the entire nuclear fuel supply chain. This followed on from a Section 232 Petition from two US uranium miners, Energy Fuels Inc and Ur-Energy, which called for a quota on uranium imports. The 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.

Creation of the reserve will begin to address the USA's "nearly complete dependence on imported uranium fuel products", Ur-Energy said yesterday.

"As we have waited for the implementation of the [Nuclear Fuel Working Group] Report's recommendations, we have maintained operational readiness at our Lost Creek mine with our experienced technical and operational staff and a well-maintained plant … and we are prepared to rapidly expand uranium production, to an annualised run rate of one million pounds," Ur-Energy Chairman and CEO Jeff Klenda said.

Amir Adnani, president and CEO of Uranium Energy Corp (UEC), said the bill, which will now go forward to the next step of Senate and House conferencing, would enable the US Department of Energy to begin the funding required to stimulate growth in the domestic uranium mining industry.

"With the largest US resource base of fully permitted and low-cost In-situ recovery projects in Texas and Wyoming, UEC is ideally positioned to be the leader in a resurgence of domestic uranium mining," he said.

A package of FY2021 appropriation bills passed in July by the House of Representatives made no provision for the uranium reserve.

Energy appropriations

The total appropriation for the Department of Energy is USD42.04 billion, which is USD3.45 billion above the FY20 enacted level and USD6.31 billion above the budget request. This includes USD1.5 billion allocated for nuclear energy research, development, and demonstration activities, including USD280 million for the Advanced Reactors Demonstration Program (ARDP). The programme, which was announced in May, is designed to help the US domestic nuclear industry demonstrate advanced nuclear reactors. Teams led by TerraPower and X-energy were recently announced as the recipients of USD160 million in initial funding under the ARDP, each getting USD80 million each to build a demonstration plant that can be operational within seven years.

The Senate committee also recommends the allocation of USD115 million for the development of accident tolerant fuels; USD10 million for the transition of tristructural isotropic, or TRISO, fuels to a "multiple-producer" market; and USD45 million for the Versatile Test Reactor project.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News