US President rejects request for uranium import quota

16 July 2019

Uranium imports do not threaten the national security of the USA, President Donald Trump has decided in his response to the Uranium Miners’ Section 232 Petition. He did however call for a "fuller analysis" of national security considerations with respect to the entire nuclear fuel supply chain.

In their filing of January 2018, two mining companies, Ur-Energy USA and Energy Fuels Resources, had contended that imports are pushing US uranium production to the brink of collapse, and asked the Trump administration to impose a quota requiring that 25% of domestic uranium consumption be met by US producers.

On 14 April, the Secretary of Commerce submitted to the President a report on his Department’s investigation into the effect of imports of uranium (uranium ore, uranium concentrate, uranium hexafluoride, enriched uranium, and enriched uranium in fuel assemblies) on national security under section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962. The Secretary found and advised the President of his opinion that uranium is being imported into the USA in such quantities and under such circumstances as to threaten to impair the national security of the USA.

Trump responded on 12 July in a 'Memorandum on the Effect of Uranium Imports on the National Security and Establishment of the United States Nuclear Fuel Working Group'. The President said he did "not concur at this time" with the Secretary's findings.

"Currently, the country imports about 93% of its commercial uranium, compared to 85.8% in 2009," Trump wrote. "The Secretary found that this figure is because of increased production by foreign state-owned enterprises, which have distorted global prices and made it more difficult for domestic mines to compete.

"At this time, I do not concur with the Secretary's finding that uranium imports threaten to impair the national security of the United States as defined under section 232 of the Act. Although I agree that the Secretary's findings raise significant concerns regarding the impact of uranium imports on the national security with respect to domestic mining, I find that a fuller analysis of national security considerations with respect to the entire nuclear fuel supply chain is necessary at this time."

Working Group

Regarding the Working Group, Trump wrote that he agreed with the Secretary that the US uranium industry faces significant challenges in producing uranium domestically and that this is an issue of national security.

"The United States requires domestically produced uranium to satisfy Department of Defense (DOD) requirements for maintaining effective military capabilities - including nuclear fuel for the United States Navy's fleet of nuclear-powered aircraft carriers and nuclear-powered submarines, source material for nuclear weapons, and other functions. Domestic mining, milling, and conversion of uranium, however, while significant, are only a part of the nuclear supply chain necessary for national security, including DOD needs," he wrote.

On 29 June, 2017, Trump announced an initiative to revive and expand the nuclear energy sector and directed a complete review of the USA's nuclear energy policy “to help find new ways to revitalise this crucial energy resource".

In the memorandum, Trump wrote that the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs and the Assistant to the President for Economic Policy shall establish a United States Nuclear Fuel Working Group to develop recommendations for reviving and expanding domestic nuclear fuel production.

"The Working Group shall examine the current state of domestic nuclear fuel production to reinvigorate the entire nuclear fuel supply chain, consistent with United States national security and non-proliferation goals," he wrote.

Within 90 days of the date of the memorandum, the Working Group must submit a report to the President setting forth its findings and making recommendations to further enable domestic nuclear fuel production if needed.

Industry praise

Maria Korsnick, president and CEO of the Nuclear Energy Institute, "applauded" the President's decision that uranium imports do not threaten national security.

"Quotas on uranium imports would have a crippling impact on the economic health of the US nuclear fleet," she said on 13 July. "The formation of the Nuclear Fuel Working Group to support the front-end of the domestic fuel cycle aligns with one of NEI’s recommendations to address the very real challenges faced by the US uranium miners and other fuel cycle suppliers," she added.

Energy Fuels, which is the biggest uranium producer in the USA, said that, despite Trump's decision, its petition with Ur-Energy USA had in fact been "very successful". The President had "not only acknowledged he has 'significant concerns regarding the impact of uranium imports on the national security with respect to domestic mining'," the company noted, "but went further and concluded that 'a fuller analysis of national security considerations with respect to the entire nuclear fuel supply chain is necessary at this time'."

The company said it looked forward to cooperating with the Working Group to "ensure the United States will have a viable uranium mining industry that can fulfil national security needs now and into the future".

Mark Chalmers, president and CEO of Energy Fuels, said: "We commend President Trump for recognising the crucial importance of nuclear energy, the importance of the entire nuclear fuel supply chain and the importance of the domestic uranium mining industry as a key component of that chain."

Energy Fuels says it owns and operates some of the lowest cost in situ recovery and conventional uranium mines in the USA. It also owns the White Mesa Mill in Utah, which is the only conventional uranium mill in the country that is licensed and operating.

Canadian uranium miner Cameco said it was pleased with the Section 232 decision. Tim Gitzel, president and CEO of the Saskatchewan headquartered company, said that uranium supplied by Cameco or Canada for zero-carbon energy generation had “never been a threat” to US national security.

The establishment of the Working Group "may broaden the range of options" that could be considered to support the US uranium industry "beyond the trade-related remedies" permitted under Section 232, he added.

"Cameco will participate in the efforts of this Working Group in any way we can," Gitzel said. "As a long-term commercial producer, employer, supplier and investor in the US uranium and nuclear energy sectors, we want to see this industry succeed and grow.

"With operations on both sides of the border, Cameco also sees tremendous value in increasing cooperation between the United States and Canada to address critical mineral issues and strengthen security of supply on a North American, rather than strictly national, basis," Gitzel said. The recent commitment by President Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to develop a joint action plan on critical minerals collaboration is "an excellent initiative", Gitzel said, and Cameco sees uranium being "a key component" of that strategy.

The USA is Cameco's biggest customer by country, accounting for about 25% of its total sales by volume in 2018. The company said that the uncertainty resulting from the investigation had "hung over the uranium industry for much of the past year, compounding an already challenging global market". While some uncertainty will remain until the efforts of the Working Group are complete, it said, the US President’s decision is overall a positive outcome.

Subiaco, Western Australia-based Boss Resources noted that Trump's decision had been praised by US nuclear power utilities who were concerned restrictions on uranium imports would increase costs.

"Boss believes this outcome is very positive for Australian producers and the uranium market as a whole, as the declined restrictions may have created long-term distortions in the market which could have further impacted the recovery of the uranium market," the company said, adding that the decision is "expected to assist unlocking buying activity" from US utilities and, accordingly, support a uranium price increase.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News