GAO recommends improvements to US uranium strategy

11 December 2020

Actions to mitigate risks to the USA's domestic uranium supply chain could be better planned and coordinated, according to a report published yesterday by the US Government Accountability Office (GAO). Improving cost estimates to support future funding requests for the proposed uranium reserve is one of several recommendations by the GAO to improve the strategy to address concerns expressed by domestic uranium industry and support new uranium production.

(Image: A Johnson/Pixabay)

The GAO report is in response the strategy released earlier this year by the Nuclear Fuel Working Group (NFWG) set up in 2019 by President Donald Trump to look into national security considerations with respect to the entire nuclear fuel supply chain. The strategy outlined by the NFWG includes setting up a uranium reserve with the purchase of uranium from US mines and of US conversion services.

The report examines identified risks to the supply chain and actions to mitigate those risks, and the extent to which the NFWG's risk mitigation strategy incorporates "desirable characteristics of a national strategy". In particular, it examines the future supply of unobligated enriched uranium. This is uranium used to meet the US National Nuclear Security Administration's (NNSA's) requirements for defence needs, including the production of tritium. Uranium used for these purposes must be unobligated - that is, free of peaceful use obligations that apply to uranium and certain technologies imported into the US under international agreements. The NNSA therefore relies on the US nuclear supply chain for domestically mined and enriched unobligated material.

The GAO says it cannot conclude that DOE's estimate of USD150 million for setting up the uranium reserve - which it has included in its 2021 budget - is reasonable because it is unclear how the funding needs for the reserve were determined. "By providing a more complete analysis to support future funding requests for the reserve, DOE could better provide assurance that such requests would achieve objectives," the GAO says.

The NFWG strategy does not fully incorporate all the desirable characteristics identified by GAO for a national strategy, the report finds, citing a failure to identify the level of resources needed to support proposed actions or an interagency coordinating mechanism. "DOE is developing an implementation plan for the strategy, but DOE officials provided conflicting statements about the extent to which the agency will coordinate interagency implementation," the GAO report notes.

The GAO has made three recommendations: that the US Secretary of Energy should ensure, that any future funding requests for the uranium reserve are based on cost estimates that have been thoroughly reviewed and deemed reasonable; that the NNSA should ensure its "analysis of alternatives" for a capability to meet future unobligated enriched uranium needs is "unbiased toward any solution"; and that the Secretary of Energy should ensure that the implementation plan addresses the "desirable characteristics" for a national strategy.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News