The Trump administration is asking Congress for $1.5 billion over 10 years to create a new national stockpile of U.S.-mined uranium. The administration says that the move is a matter of vital energy security.
Demand for nuclear fuel has declined in recent years, and not just in the United States. In 2011, an earthquake damaged a nuclear power plant in Fukushima, Japan. One of the reactors leaked radioactive materials that contaminated seawater and the surrounding area. Following the disaster, worldwide use of nuclear power—the source of which is uranium—has dropped. The U.S. uranium industry saw a 96% decrease in production in the last five years. Several American nuclear power plants have closed.
Natural gas and renewable energy sources such as wind and solar have filled the power gap. Remaining U.S. nuclear power plants in 2018 got 90% of their uranium from Canada, Kazakhstan, and other foreign suppliers. Only 10% came from U.S. mines. So the U.S. nuclear industry sought help from the Trump administration, asking for taxpayer subsidies to promote use of U.S. uranium.
The President’s request for funding will need approval by Congress. The chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee is Representative Raul Grijalva of Arizona. His aides say that the committee needs more details backing the domestic stockpile of uranium in order to approve the request.
In 2019, President Trump set up a task force. The group included national security, military, and other federal officials. He asked them to look into reviving domestic production of the nuclear fuel supply chain, rather than depending on resources from other nations.
The task force’s findings are expected within the next two weeks. That report could have great bearing on whether the United States will be “back in the nuclear game around the world,” says Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette.
If approved, the Energy Department says the plan will boost work for at least a couple of the U.S. West’s nearly dormant uranium operations. The opportunity for more employment sounds like an economic positive. But some people living near a uranium mill in southern Utah aren’t yet on board. They fear the possibility of radioactive threats like the Fukushima incident.
Yolanda Badback is a resident of White Mesa, a town of about 200 people. She does not want to see the mine revived. “Whatever Trump does, we’ll be standing our ground to let the people know that we’re not going to give up” fighting against the operation, Badback says.
(The White Mesa Uranium Mill near Blanding, Utah, could ramp up uranium production in the future if President Trump’s budget request is approved. Dom Smith/EcoFlight via AP)