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Sunday, May 19, 2024

Biden’s Prohibition on Russian Uranium: The Implications for Utah


SALT LAKE ⁣CITY — The mining sector is celebrating President Joe Biden’s enactment ‌of a law ⁢that effectively prohibits the importation‌ of ‌Russian uranium into the United States. The legislation also kickstarts the essential enrichment process by providing an additional $2.7 billion in funding.

“This ⁣is a momentous day for the United States and its allies,” expressed ​Curtis Moore, the vice ‌president ‌of marketing and corporate ⁣development for Energy Fuels. This Colorado-based‍ company⁣ runs the only uranium processing mill in the U.S., situated in Utah’s San Juan County.

“As a nation, we swiftly‌ acted to ban Russian oil, gas, and coal imports and‍ imposed a series of sanctions on ​Russia. However, it took us a considerable amount​ of time to prohibit Russian uranium imports.​ This has been long ⁤overdue,” Moore stated.

Moore ⁣further explained: “Nuclear energy accounts for about‍ 20% of ⁣all‌ electricity in the United States, ⁤and half of our carbon-free electricity is derived from nuclear power. It was not beneficial for the United States to be⁤ so reliant⁤ on a country like Russia for all‍ of this clean energy.”

President Biden signed the ban on Monday, marking ‌a new era that Energy Fuels and other industry players believe will pave the way for a carbon-free energy future. This move is expected to revitalize ⁢an industry that has been grappling with low uranium prices and market domination ⁤by‍ foreign⁢ countries. Over the past decade, the U.S. has imported 99% of the uranium it uses for nuclear energy, with domestic uranium contributing to just 1% of the country’s consumption.

Why this⁣ is crucial ‍for the United States

“In the past two to ​three decades, we have essentially‌ outsourced most of ‌our nuclear fuel capabilities to hostile actors, including Russia. ⁤This $2.7 billion will be utilized to enhance capacity,” Moore said, referring to the conversion of uranium ore ⁣and enrichment‍ for eventual ‍use as nuclear fuel.

“This creates a bit of a bottleneck in the uranium conversion ⁤and uranium enrichment markets. Russia controls approximately 40% to 45% of global uranium enrichment capacity and around 30% to‍ 35% of global uranium conversion capacity. That’s a significant bottleneck.”

Moore⁣ acknowledged that it will take time to overcome this bottleneck, as a facility in Illinois that⁣ has been dormant for years‍ is now planning to ​restart its operations.

“The Russia-Ukraine conflict has highlighted our ‌overdependence on Russian⁣ nuclear fuel products, and we ⁤are also overly reliant on ⁣other countries like China. Today, we ‌can⁣ confidently say that we are taking a significant step to reduce that dependency,” stated Mark Chalmers, president and chief executive officer of Energy Fuels.

Energy Fuels operates three ‍mines in Colorado, Wyoming, and​ Utah⁢ where uranium ‍ore is extracted as the first step in the process⁤ for the ultimate conversion and enrichment process ⁢for nuclear fuel.

“These are all critical steps in the‌ nuclear ‍fuel supply chain. Currently, ⁢with Russia being removed from the market, there’s not ⁤enough uranium conversion and⁢ enrichment capacity,” Moore explained. “In fact, over the ⁣last several years, as utilities‍ have moved away from Russian uranium conversion and enrichment‍ prices — they’ve skyrocketed ⁤by eight, 10, 12 times because there’s a real pinch point or a real bottleneck in those crucial ‍functions. This funding will assist U.S. converters in accessing more of its existing‍ capacity.”

The U.S. is abundant with uranium deposits and can also ‍depend on allies like‌ Canada‍ and others for uranium imports.

Moore expressed that ⁢he does not⁢ believe the newly enacted ban will simplify the⁣ process of permitting new mines, but it is a⁤ significant step that will encourage the development of ‍next-generation nuclear facilities such as small modular reactors.

“It‍ certainly provides support for continuing to ⁤produce newly‍ mined uranium and recycling uranium that ‌we’ve done for years at the mill,” Moore said. ‌”It’s an ⁢exciting time for the uranium industry and the nuclear fuel cycle as a whole. ‌It’s⁣ great to see that momentum, but we need support because there has been a long hiatus where there has been reduced activity.”

The National Mining Association also responded ⁣on⁣ Tuesday ​to the news of new tariffs imposed by Biden’s executive⁣ order to limit imports from China dealing with rare‍ earth ​elements, which are crucial in many manufacturing processes, including electric vehicles.

“China already has a ‌decades-long global start in minerals ‌to⁢ batteries, and⁤ its dominance of the world’s supply chains shows it,” said Rich Nolan, president and chief executive officer of the National Mining Association. “It’s encouraging to see the Biden administration take bold ‍action to ‍counter China’s‍ strong grip on these markets, but this action must⁤ be ⁣paired with support for, ⁣and​ approval of, ‌U.S. mining projects.”

Energy⁣ Fuels is also⁢ leading​ the charge in⁣ rare⁤ earth element processing in the United⁢ States and has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in its program, acquiring property in Brazil to secure monazite. This development has the potential ​to supply⁢ up to 10,000 metric tons of monazite concentrate per year. Monazite is ​a⁣ mineral that binds rare earth ⁢elements that are used in clean energy technology in wind turbines, electric vehicles, and F-35 fighter jets, such as those that operate at Hill Air Force Base.

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  1. Agree, good punctuation and grammar: The ban on Russian uranium could have significant economic implications for Utah’s mining industry.


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