Congressman Raúl M. Grijalva
1324 Longworth House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
Congressman Tom O’Halleran
318 Cannon House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
Senator Kyrsten Sinema
317 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
Senator Mark Kelly
Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
Dear Congressmen Grijalva and O’Halleran and Senators Sinema and Kelly,
As experts in nuclear energy, national security, and nonproliferation, we believe national or energy security cannot justifiably be used to oppose a permanent ban on uranium mining near the Grand Canyon. A twenty-year ban was implemented in 2012. Now Congress is considering a permanent ban, and Senate bill S. 387 requires an assessment of its national security implications.
The attached letter to the White House from October 2019 explains why national security was the wrong premise for protectionist measures contemplated by the previous administration. It argues that the United States has more than adequate supplies of uranium for commercial and defense purposes. In fact, policies to prop up domestic uranium mining are more likely to incur national security risks than to provide benefits, because of their inconsistency with U.S. nonproliferation policy, which argues that functioning international markets eliminate the need for national uranium fuel cycles.
For a permanent ban to harm energy or national security, two things would need to be true: 1) That U.S. access to reliable, adequate, and affordable uranium could become uncertain in the future; and 2) That uranium near the Grand Canyon would be vital to U.S. production.
Neither is true.
Since the 1950s, the United States, like many countries, has purchased foreign uranium for civilian purposes. Currently, U.S. nuclear power reactor operators buy more than 90% of their uranium abroad. This makes sense, because none of the million metric tons of identified recoverable resources under $40/kg of uranium is located in the United States. In fact, the International Energy Agency’s Uranium 2020: Resources, Production and Demand, noted that 14 U.S. mines remained closed because of low uranium prices. How do U.S. utility operators ensure reliable, adequate and affordable supplies? They diversify their purchases from a range of countries, including Canada and Australia, two close, stable U.S. allies.
U.S. defense uses include highly enriched uranium for nuclear weapons and naval reactors, and low-enriched uranium to support tritium production. The United States has stockpiled hundreds of tons of fissile material for decades and the Department of Energy has implemented a management plan for highly enriched uranium to 2060. Concerns about supplies of unencumbered uranium for defense purposes center on the availability of enrichment services, not ore. DoE assessed its natural-uranium-equivalent stocks in 2008 at 58,931 metric tons; in 2013, there was between 37,000 and 47,000 metric tons of U.S.-origin material awaiting sale or use.1
Should additional domestic uranium be needed for either commercial or military uses, mining would focus on the largest, richest, and most readily extracted (and therefore most economic) reserves. These are found in Wyoming, New Mexico, and Virginia, not the Grand Canyon region. According to a 2018 petition to the Department of Commerce filed by Energy Fuels Resources and Ur-Energy USA, Inc., the reasonably-assured uranium resources in all of Arizona constitute only a little more than 2% of the total estimated in the United States. 2 Moreover, the breccia-pipe deposits near the Grand Canyon do not allow the use of efficient in-situ leach mining. Should one day it make economic sense to mine the Arizona deposits, technology may not only make extraction more efficient from other mines, but also from resources that are currently not cost-effective, such as from seawater.
1) The 2008 plan was updated in 2013. https://www.energy.gov/sites/prod/files/2013/07/f2/Excess%20Uranium%20Inventory%20Management%20Plan.pdf
2) Note this is for all of Arizona, not just in the area in question. https://filecache.investorroom.com/mr5ircnw_energyfuels/364/2017.01.16-Signed-Petition.pdf
Former Nuclear Regulatory Commissioner (1977-1982)
Former Chair of NY and Maine Public Utility Regulatory Commissions
Professor of Practice
Harvard Kennedy School New America
(Hon.) Thomas Countryman
Former Assistant Secretary of State
for International Security & Nonproliferation
Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State
Nuclear Regulatory Commission (1975-1984)
Daryl G. Kimball
Arms Control Association
Former NRC Chairman (2012-2014)
James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies
Former Senior Lecturer
Department of Economics
Andrew K. Semmel
Former Deputy Assistant of State For Nonproliferation
Nonproliferation Policy Education Center
Research Professor of Practice
George Washington University
John F. Tierney
Executive Director, Center for Arms Control and Non- Proliferation
Former Member, U.S. House of Representatives
Frank Von Hippel
Senior Research Physicist and Professor of Public and International Affairs Emeritus
Sharon K. Weiner
Associate Professor of International Relations