US worries about imported minerals: focus on uranium

Its a recurring theme and has come up again with the National Mining Association (NMA) citing the consequences of America’s growing dependence on foreign materials. It says “a growing and potentially damaging reliance on foreign metals and minerals should make Congress wary of measures that would further disadvantage the use of American resources, said an executive for Uranium One on behalf of the NMA.”

In testimony before the House Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Uranium One Executive Vice President of Corporate and Strategic Affairs Fletcher Newton cited several potentially negative consequences of America’s significant and growing dependency on foreign minerals and metals including aggravation of the US balance of payments, unpredictable price fluctuations and supply disruptions due to political or economic instability.

Uranium is a primary example of this dependency, said Newton.  The US currently consumes more than 56 Mlb/y of uranium, yet produces only 4.5 Mlb, despite the fact that America possesses some of the world’s largest uranium deposits and has historically been a major uranium producer. 

Newton said America has the world’s largest fleet of nuclear power plants that generate 20% of the nation’s electricity. At the same time, the US produces less than 10% – and imports more than 90% – of the uranium it uses for nuclear power. Uncertainty over regulatory policies discourages investment in new production, he said, even though prices for uranium have climbed to record levels and the US demand for uranium is expected to increase.

Newton drew on his extensive experience in citing factors that contribute to a climate of uncertainty for American hard rock producers.  Among them, he said, is an overly burdensome regulatory and permitting process “that can take upwards of a decade to complete,” and the prospect of additional regulatory burdens for operators on federal lands, who account for the bulk of the nation’s metals production.

NMA supports efforts to reform the 1872 General Mining Law, said Newton, that do not add redundant layers of regulation to the existing framework that the National Academy of Sciences has already judged to be “effective.”  For example, uranium production now complies with all the laws and regulations governing hard rock mining operations, and uranium processing must meet additional standards set by both the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Environmental Protection Agency, as well as numerous state agencies.