US senators urge extension to uranium import quota

21 May 2020

A bipartisan group of US Senators has called for the Department of Commerce (DOC) to extend the Russian Suspension Agreement (RSA), as recommended by the Nuclear Fuel Working Group (NFWG).

The NFWG published its report in April (Image: US Department of Energy)

The letter to Department of Commerce Assistant Secretary Jeffrey Kessler was signed by Senator John Barrasso, who is chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, and Senators Martin Heinrich, Lisa Murkowski, Joe Manchin, Mike Braun, Tom Udall, Kevin Cramer, Mike Enzi, Tom Cotton and Lindsey Graham. In it, the senators called for DOC to reduce imports of Russian uranium to below existing limits. This, they said, will protect the USA's natural uranium fuel supply chain from "aggressive and illegal trade practices of nuclear state-owned enterprises of foreign adversaries".

The NFWG was established by President Donald Trump in July 2019 to undertake a fuller analysis of national security considerations with respect to the entire nuclear fuel supply chain, following on from a presidential decision in response to a Section 232 Petition from two US uranium miners, Energy Fuels Inc and Ur-Energy, which called for a quota on uranium imports. The working group's report, Restoring America's Competitive Nuclear Energy Advantage: A strategy to assure US National Security, setting out recommendations to support US strategic fuel cycle capabilities and revitalise the sector, was published last month.

One of the measures recommended by the NFWG was to extend the RSA, which sets quotas on imports of Russian uranium into the USA to ensure that the US front-end nuclear fuel cycle is not materially injured by imports of uranium at less than fair market value. The current RSA, which has been amended several times since the original 1992 agreement, expires this year and is under review by DOC. It currently sets a maximum cap for imports of Russian uranium to 20% of the US market.

In their letter, the senators say it is "imperative" for the DOC to extend the RSA. They also call for DOC to base their negotiations on the World Nuclear Association's "lower" scenario data, saying the "reference" scenario has "consistently overestimated" domestic uranium demand.

Responding to the NFWG report in April, the Ad Hoc Utilities Group (AHUG) noted that most of the USA's uranium supply currently comes from US, Canadian, and Australian suppliers. Russian companies, under a 2008 amendment to the RSA, are allowed to sell low-enriched uranium to US nuclear generators. "Near term supply from Russia could not be replaced as the global enrichment market has very little uncommitted supply and limited ability to expand in the near to mid-term," the AHUG said.

The USA produced a total of 0.17 million pounds U3O8 (65.4 tU) of uranium concentrate from all domestic sources in 2019 - 89% less than in 2018 - according to figures released this week by the US Energy Information Administration.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News