Domestic Uranium Supply Needed As Supply Chain Problems Persist21 Apr 2022, Posted in All Posts, Blog Posts
The current energy crisis has seen gasoline prices rise to all-time highs across the country. Around the world, many countries’ ability to meet their energy needs through imports has also been called into question as markets respond to Russia’s war in Ukraine and environmental regulations and policy priorities limiting exploration, production, and even mining. Alternative sources of energy like renewables have continued to improve over the years, but components for wind turbines and solar panels are also largely imported to the U.S. Domestic sources of energy, like U.S.-sourced uranium could be a viable source of electricity for the national energy grid.
The U.S. nuclear industry produced the largest amount of electricity it ever has in 2019. This record-breaking year came in spite of U.S. domestic uranium mining only producing 0.17 million pounds that year, a record low. While mineable uranium reserves in the U.S. number 25,400 tons that are currently recoverable, U.S. uranium mines and processing facilities are either operating at minimal levels or sit idle. In 2020, owners and operators of nuclear plants in the U.S. purchased 90 percent of uranium fuel used in reactors from foreign countries.
In order to hedge against increased dependency on foreign energy imports and to spur domestic uranium mining, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Nuclear Energy first suggested the creation of a Strategic Uranium Reserve in 2020. This reserve would support two uranium mines and re-establish processing and conversion abilities to allow for the entire uranium supply chain to remain within the U.S. Most uranium mines are located on federal land in Utah, Wyoming, and New Mexico while smaller mines in Texas, Arizona, and Nebraska also contribute to U.S. production.
The COVID-19 pandemic led to further curtailing of domestic mining, but subsequent supply bottlenecks and transportation issues from abroad have necessitated a secure domestic supply of uranium. Additional security and energy concerns arise from imports of uranium from Russia, which make up 16 percent of the U.S. supply. Recent legislation that bans imports of uranium from Russia alongside already-banned oil and gas, would allow for U.S. reactors to continue operation even if foreign supplies were cut off. Overall, uranium mining will largely be confined to federal land due to regulations concerning security, environmental protection, and labor regulations.
Domestic uranium mining will ensure that a crucial energy supply remains secured and high environmental standards are adhered to for the mining and processing of uranium ore. High standards for waste storage, mining, and milling of uranium ore, as well as a strict permitting process, ensure facilities have radiation safety programs to negate any potential risk to workers. Ultimately, the rules and regulations have ensured zero deaths in the U.S. from nuclear power since the first plant was opened in 1958. Ensuring a domestic supply of a crucial energy source for the U.S. electrical grid will prevent further disruptions to the U.S. energy supply, either from price swings or foreign conflicts.
Written by Roy Mathews, Public Policy Associate
The Alliance for Innovation and Infrastructure (Aii) is an independent, national research and educational organization. An innovative think tank, Aii explores the intersection of economics, law, and public policy in the areas of climate, damage prevention, energy, infrastructure, innovation, technology, and transportation.