Trillions of dollars’ worth of precious metals & rare earths; US uranium troubles; Steve Moore, economist, Heritage.

Sep 25, 2019, 06:11 AM
Image: Rare-earth ore (shown with a 19 mm diameter US 1 cent coin for size comparison). Public domain. 
Steve Moore, Committee to Unleash Prosperity; Economic Consultant with Freedom Works;  & Heritage; in re: The US economy: seven million jobs available right now, best economy in decades.  Last week, industrial production went ’way up – no recession in sight.
       US uranium stocks perilously low*. Russia and China are putting nuclear power plants in countries they want to control.  Anyone truly concerned about climate change needs to favor nuclear power. Uranium is critical to US power and military y; our uranium industry has in effect been shut down – we’re getting it from Russia and Kazakhstan, both unreliable in a pinch.   I think natural gas and nuclear power will both be essential in the coming century.  And China is getting in this game.  We’re sitting on trillions of dollars’ worth of precious metals and rare earths, but cannot get them because of draconian regulations here.  Shooting selves in foot.
Executive Summary
 The U.S. uranium mining industry is in crisis today due to certain foreign state-owned companies and entities undermining free-market uranium through predatory practices. U.S, uranium production has also suffered from years of anti-mining regulatory and environmental policies that have left the domestic industry dormant. As of 2019, more than 99 percent of U.S. uranium supplies are imported, much of it from Russia, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan. China is also ramping up its ability to supply more cheap uranium to the U.S. These are not friendly ally nations that America can depend on. Because of those foreign imports, and for a variety of regulatory and policy reasons, domestic uranium production and employment are at historic lows not seen since the dawn of the industry in the 1940s. The private industry on which the nuclear fuel cycle has traditionally relied is on the verge of collapse. Were the nation’s domestic uranium mining industry to disappear, could it make a comeback? If a comeback were possible, how long would it take and at what cost to our energy, medical and military needs? Despite the existence of vast uranium deposits in the U.S., domestic producers expect 2019 production to dip below one percent of what our nation requires to fuel its commercial nuclear reactors—i.e. less than the amount required to fuel even one  of the 97 commercial reactors that produce electricity, and enable nuclear and medical research in the U.S. It is dangerous to have the world’s largest network of nuclear reactors operating without some basic level of uninterruptable supply of domestic uranium to fuel them, rather than the near 100 percent import reliance now expected for 2019 and 2020. In addition, the nation is ultimately at risk of not being able to provide its mandated supply of domestic uranium for national defense and national security requirements. Western companies operating in free-market capitalism environments are not and have not been on a level playing field with state-sponsored companies and entities who are more interested in geopolitical advantage over the West, than in profitability. While we certainly believe in free trade, the increasing uranium market dominance from state-sponsors threatens not just the production of U.S. uranium, but also the prospect of a vibrant civilian nuclear reactor fleet—i.e. the entire nuclear fuel cycle. Civilian nuclear reactors provide critical baseload power that keeps the electrical grid stable. The U.S. can ill-afford the possibility of geopolitically motivated uranium fuel supply disruptions because nuclear energy provides 20 percent of the nation’s electricity, as well as 55 percent of our carbon-free power generation. Unfortunately, U.S. domestic uranium production has been reduced to three mining companies. Currently the total U.S. uranium workforce has been reduced to less than 400 employees from over 21,000 in the early 1980’s. In addition, the nation has lost considerable technical talent and expertise that has become increasingly difficult to replace. The uranium industry has capacity to produce significant quantities of uranium from mines idled and on standby, but the ability of the industry to sustain idle operations is severely limited by the following factors: 
 • State laws 
 that restrict the length of time mines can remain on standby and, forcing premature decommissioning of mining capacity. 
 • Nongovernmental organizations 
 that actively pursue litigation to force the closure of mines currently on standby. 
 • State and tribal governments considering uranium mining bans, 
 who have been emboldened by the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent upholding of Virginia’s uranium mining ban. 
 • For smaller domestic uranium companies, the sheer cost of maintaining non-producing mines is not sustainable and will result in closures under current market conditions. Unless conditions improve dramatically or the federal government provides immediate assistance to create a level playing field, much of current uranium production capacity is at risk of being permanently stranded or lost, immediately jeopardizing U.S. uranium-dependent power generation and national security and national defense programs. Rebuilding production capacity and intellectual capital to support the minimum uranium industrial base needed for defense programs would also probably take decades.