Mohave County may support push for federal investigation into uranium imports

Uranium mining in the Mohave County Strip could represent a multi-billion-dollar industry, waiting to be excavated. (Daily Miner file photo)

Uranium mining in the Mohave County Strip could represent a multi-billion-dollar industry, waiting to be excavated. (Daily Miner file photo)

KINGMAN – The Mohave County Board of Supervisors is scheduled to discuss supporting a federal investigation into uranium imports.

As parent company to Mohave County’s Uranium One Mine, Energy Fuels Resources Inc. is petitioning the U.S. Department of Commerce to launch an investigation into whether uranium imports could pose a threat to national security. Colorado-based Ur-Energy Inc. joined Energy Fuels in submitting its petition, and Mohave County Supervisor Buster Johnson filed a motion Aug. 27 for the Board of Supervisors to sign a letter of support for the petition at its Sept. 4 meeting.

According to Johnson, uranium mining in the Mohave County Strip could represent a multi-billion-dollar industry, waiting to be excavated. “Mohave County has the highest-grade uranium in the U.S.,” Johnson said. “And it’s not just Mohave County that would benefit – other states would benefit as well, if they were able to mix our uranium with their lower-grade uranium, and improve it.”

According to Energy Fuel Resources and Ur-Energy, Western Arizona and Utah possess major economic potential for uranium mining. The industry could produce $40 million annually in payroll, $9.5 million in mining claim payments to local governments and more than $30 billion over a 42-year span.

But as of 2017, about 7 percent of uranium delivered to U.S. nuclear reactors was produced in the United States. The remaining 93 percent of uranium used by nuclear reactors in the U.S. was imported, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. About 35 percent of uranium used by the U.S. was produced in Canada, 24 percent was produced in Kazakhstan, 20 percent was produced in Australia and 18 percent was produced in Russia.

“When you think of all of the production and mechanisms that run on, and are made from uranium, it’s a national security issue,” Johnson said on Thursday. “With the tariffs other countries are putting on us, and we’re putting on them … if these countries decided to stop selling to us, we’d be hung out to dry.”

According to the Energy Information Administration, U.S. nuclear reactors produce about 20 percent of the nation’s electricity, but full-time employment in the uranium mining industry decreased by nearly 50 percent in 2016. Employment trends coincided with the price of concentrated uranium, the Administration reported in 2016. Prices peaked at about $138 per pound in 2007, but fell to less than $30 per pound in 2015.

The Energy Fuel Resources/Ur-Energy petition asks that 25 percent of the U.S. market for uranium be reserved for American producers of uranium, in accordance with President Trump’s “Buy American” policy.

If approved by the Board of Supervisors, Johnson’s letter of support for the proposed investigation into uranium imports will be submitted to the U.S. Department of Commerce, and possibly to the president.