US Uranium: Biden Blocks Production in Grand Canyon causing Political Storm in Washington

An article by: Editorial board

US Senator John Barrasso, who has spent years fighting uranium imports from Russia, accused President Joe Biden of “helping America’s enemies.” Russia, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan control 46% of the uranium imported by the USA. A possible rapprochement between Russia and Niger, one of the world’s largest uranium producers, has alarmed the West.

United States President Joe Biden has declared the territory of 4,046 square kilometers around the famous Grand Canyon a “national monument.” It will be a strictly protected area, with a ban on any kind of industrial activities. First of all, uranium mining will be prohibited in what the indigenous Indian population considers “sacred land.”

During the August 8 visit to Red Butte Airfield in Arizona, which was the first stop on the US president’s trip to New Mexico and Utah, where some new environmental initiatives are expected to be announced, Biden said, “Preserving these lands is good for the planet, it’s good for the economy, it’s good for the soul of the nation, and I believe with my core, to my core, it’s the right thing to do.” Biden also stressed that America is investing $370 billion to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 40% from 2005 levels by 2030. The energy transition process will be accelerated, especially in relation to the production of batteries for electric vehicles and solar panels.

The designation of the new protected territory, which will be called Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni (Tribal land where our ancestors roamed) in the Havasupai language, has been welcomed with open arms by environmentalists. The “protected territory” status prohibits the launch of new uranium mining projects in the area, but “does not affect existing mining rights.” Uranium mining in this region had already been brought to a halt by a 20-year moratorium imposed in 2012 by then President Barack Obama.

While the Greens are celebrating the announced end of radioactive materials production, Biden’s initiative has caused a political earthquake in Washington. Republican Senator John Barrasso, sworn enemy of the uranium trade between the United States and Russia, declared that banning production in Arizona helps America’s adversaries by depriving Americans of the right to access the resources the country needs.

“President Biden is once again helping our enemies by denying Americans access to the resources we need. We currently import three times as much uranium from Russia as we produce. The Senate just voted to increase domestic uranium production to eliminate our reliance on Russia. Yet, President Biden is blocking access to key deposits of American uranium and other critical minerals to satisfy his leftwing base. This is not the time to cut off access to American resources,” said Barrasso, author of the Nuclear Fuel Safety Act, which aims to increase the production of uranium and other raw materials needed to generate electricity.

In other words, the US cannot do without significant imports of Russian uranium, which, unlike oil and gas, is not subject to Western sanctions. In May, the Newsweek magazine wrote that “the Kremlin still firmly holds in its hands what many countries need: nuclear fuel. Uranium enrichment is a special process. Few countries in the world, including Russia, have adequate technology. In addition, Russia’s uranium reserves are among the largest in the world,” wrote columnist Anna Skinner, recalling that “there are 93 nuclear reactors operating in the USA, generating more than 20% of all electricity in the country.” According to Skinner, while Germany “turned off” their reactors, American nuclear power plants are seen as “an important positive factor in the fight against climate change.”

Russia possesses 9.15% of the world’s uranium reserves and has the largest technical and technological capabilities for enriching fissile materials, which, according to the World Nuclear Association, reach 43% of the world’s capacities – a value greater than that of France, Germany, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom combined.

The countries of the world with the largest reserves of uranium

  1. Australia 31.18% of world reserves
  2. Kazakhstan 11.81%
  3. Russia 9.15%
  4. Canada 8.8%
  5. South Africa 6%
  6. Niger 5%
  7. Namibia 5%
  8. China 5%

After the outbreak of the armed conflict in Ukraine on February 24, 2022, Russia stopped publishing detailed information about its foreign trade. The most stringent ban concerns the export of fissile materials to the United States and other countries around the world. However, many experts say that over the past 18 months, the volume of this trade has certainly not decreased. According to Bloomberg, Russia controls 16.5% of all uranium imported into the United States, and 23% of the enriched uranium that American power plants use for their reactors comes from the Russian state group Rosatom: “Rosatom and its affiliates control 35% of the global market for enriched uranium,” writes Bloomberg.

According to the US Energy Information Administration, the statistics and analysis agency of the US Department of Energy, the country imports 46% of its uranium from Russia, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan, two former Soviet Central Asian republics considered among the Kremlin’s closest allies. As Senator Barrasso himself stated, “The USA spends more than a billion dollars per year on the purchase of Russian uranium.” Last March, Barrasso introduced a bill to ban uranium imports from Russia, instead proposing to revive mining in his elective state of Wyoming.

Meanwhile, the trade turnover between Russia and the USA manages to ignore sanctions and keeps increasing. In May last year (latest available data), Russian exports to the USA increased by more than 2.33 times compared to the previous month. “Following a $215 million import of raw materials and products from Russia last April, US imports surged to $503 million in May,” said Alexander Zakharov, Russian consul in Houston. “American big business does not want to miss out on the opportunities offered by Russian markets and hopes that cooperation can be resumed as soon as possible.” In addition to uranium, the United States imports chemical fertilizers from Russia, which, in order to evade sanctions, have been defined as “equivalent to basic necessities.” In 2021, trade between the USA and Russia amounted to $34.4 billion, of which Russian exports amounted to $17.5 billion and American exports to $16.8 billion.

Many countries around the world rely on Russian nuclear technology. In Slovakia, two nuclear power plants operated by the Russian company TVEL produce almost 50% of electricity. Hungary has a number of agreements with Rosatom for the construction of nuclear power plants. In recent years, Russia has been very actively promoting cooperation in the field of “peaceful atom” towards the Middle East and Africa.

This is exactly why the recent upheaval in Niger, one of the world’s largest uranium producers, has alarmed the West. As Bloomberg wrote on August 3, “the possible rapprochement between Niger and Russia will dramatically increase the world’s dependence on Moscow’s nuclear energy policy.”

Giornalisti e Redattori di Pluralia

Editorial board