Uranium Imports Aren't a Threat, Obama's Energy Chief Says

(Bloomberg) -- A former U.S. energy secretary dismissed the idea that an influx of foreign uranium imports is a threat to national security, rejecting what could be a justification for future import quotas to protect domestic suppliers.

“I have never considered uranium to be a major security issue,” Ernest Moniz, who led the Department of Energy under former President Barack Obama, said in an interview. “I think uranium supply -- especially a commodity like that, that you can store lots and lots of it -- I don’t consider it to be a driving national security issue.”

Uranium Imports Aren't a Threat, Obama's Energy Chief Says

The Commerce Department, at the behest of two small domestic uranium producers, Energy Fuels Inc. and Ur-Energy Inc., recently concluded an investigation of whether imports of the radioactive metal harm national security. Moniz said the ability to stockpile uranium undercuts the argument from domestic miners that the U.S. relies too heavily on foreign producers for its future supply.

These two companies asked the White House to reserve 25 percent of the domestic market for U.S. producers using the same law the Trump administration cited last year to bypass Congress to levy tariffs on steel and aluminum imports.

Nuclear reactor operators, which import nearly all of their uranium from countries including Canada, Russia, and Kazakhstan, argue that such a move could increase their costs by as much as $800 million a year. That would translate send about 6.7 gigawatts of nuclear capacity into negative margins, according to research published today by BloombergNEF.

If the Commerce Department finds imports of uranium threaten national security, President Donald Trump would have authority to impose an import quota or some other trade remedy -- or do nothing at all.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.