Published: Sat, July 21, 2018
Business | By Eloise Houston

U.S. initiates national security investigation into uranium imports

U.S. initiates national security investigation into uranium imports

The Commerce Department on Wednesday opened an investigation into whether imports of uranium, which fuels nuclear power plants and submarines, pose a risk against national security.

Those investigations are unusual in their reliance on a national security justification for limiting imports in such broad categories - or potentially limiting them, in the case of autos - from close US allies.

The company said the paper ignored evidence that Energy Fuels and Ur-Energy included in their petition demonstrating that the industry has sufficient licensed capacity and resources to meet us production requirements if the quotas recommended in the petition are imposed.

"Our production of uranium necessary for military and electric power has dropped from 49 percent of our consumption to five percent", U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said in a statement. "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".

The administration announced in March imposing tariffs of 25 percent on steel and 10 percent on aluminum imports, and began implementing tariffs worth of $34 billion on 1,300 Chinese goods two weeks ago.

"Targeting Canada's uranium industry would be absurd and would suggest a deliberate escalation by the Trump administration - for its own political purposes - of a trade war with America's closest ally", he said in a statement.

The main exporter countries of uranium to the United States are Canada and Kazakhstan.

The companies have blamed the drop in USA domestic production on foreign nations' subsidies for uranium production.

But the nuclear power industry has warned that an aggressive attempt to restrict access to imported uranium could increase the cost of operating US nuclear power plants, many of which already struggle to compete with lower-price natural gas and renewable energy. "Foreign policies of other nations should not be permitted to jeopardize this crucial USA industry", the statement said.

Canada is the world's second-largest producer of uranium after Kazakhstan, with 23 per cent of global production in 2016, said Natural Resources Canada. "U.S. uranium production had been 49 percent of USA requirements in 1987".

Nuclear power provides 20percent of the U.S.' electricity, a fraction that is set to wane in the coming years: Since 2013, six of the nation's nuclear reactors have shut down permanently and 11 others are scheduled to be retired by 2025. "We are a stable and reliable supplier of uranium for American civilian nuclear power reactors", Adam Austen said.

In addition to being used in nuclear weapons, uranium fuels about 20 percent of USA electricity generation and is used to power nuclear submarines and aircraft carriers.

According to these companies, "the combined uranium imports from three geopolitically and commercially linked countries - Russia, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan - fulfilled almost 40% of US requirements" in 2016, and China has increased their own nuclear power production in recent years as well, threatening USA markets. 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 United States strategic interests.

The department will investigate the matter under Section 232 of the 1962 Trade Expansion Act.

Canada must be exempted from a US investigation, and excluded from any potential tariffs or quotas, said Ken Neumann, Canadian Director of United Steelworkers, which represents workers in the uranium mining and processing sectors in Western Canada and Ontario.

"If the issue in question is the over-reliance of the United States on uranium supplied by state-controlled enterprises from countries not aligned with American policy interests, this clearly does not apply to Canada or Cameco", he said.

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