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Four Corners Could See Uranium Mining Revival This Summer

Photo of Bears Ears Buttes.
Erik Neumann
A uranium company that lobbied the Trump administration to reduce the size of Bears Ears National Monument has also petitioned the government to require power plants source a quarter of their uranium from domestic mines.

The Trump administration may soon push for more uranium mining in the Colorado Plateau, arguing the mineral is critical for national security. The potential move prompted criticism from Democrats during a hearing of the U.S. House Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources on Tuesday. 

“Arbitrarily classifying uranium as a critical mineral and declaring it a matter of national security is just a way for the Trump administration to speed up new mine permitting and prop up the declining uranium mining industry,” said subcommittee chairman Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.).

In 2017, 93% of the uranium used by U.S. nuclear reactors was imported from foreign countries. In 2018, the U.S. Interior Department listed the mineral as one of 35 commodities that were deemed essential for the economic and national safety of the U.S. 

That same year, energy producers Energy Fuels Resources (USA) Inc. and Ur-Energy USA Inc. requested that the U.S. Department of Commerce begin requiring power plants to source at least a quarter of their uranium from domestic mines. 

“Today we face a serious crisis because the domestic industry that produces this key ingredient for the nation’s defense and critical infrastructure is threatened by imports from state-sponsored producers in Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and China,” the producers wrote in their petition. 

The Trump administration has until mid-July to decide whether it will implement the 25% domestic requirement. 

Over half of U.S. uranium imports come from the nation’s allies Canada and Australia, and during the hearing Lowenthal said the Trump administration’s national security argument represented a double standard.

“The Department of Defense does classify climate change as an immediate risk to national security, but the administration is certainly in no hurry to address that,” Lowenthal asserted. “The administration is in a hurry to shrink national monuments and declare uranium a critical mineral.”

Energy Fuels Resources (USA) Inc. also lobbied the Trump administration to shrink Bears Ears National Monument, which contains uranium deposits.

Uranium mining during the 20th century has left a toxic legacy in many areas of the Southwest and the Navajo Nation in particular. 

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUER in Salt Lake City, KUNR in Nevada, and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.

Nate Hegyi is the Utah reporter for the Mountain West News Bureau, based at KUER. He covers federal land management agencies, indigenous issues, and the environment. Before arriving in Salt Lake City, Nate worked at Yellowstone Public Radio, Montana Public Radio, and was an intern with NPR's Morning Edition. He received a master's in journalism from the University of Montana.
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