Apr 12, 2019

Nuclear energy pulled into Trump trade wars

Add nuclear energy to the long list of sectors caught up in President Trump’s protectionist trade agenda.

Driving the news: The Commerce Department faces a Sunday deadline to deliver a report to Trump on whether it recommends imposing quotas requiring more uranium — the fuel used in nuclear plants — to be sourced domestically in the name of national security.

Where it stands: The two petitioners, U.S. uranium producers with operations across the West, including Colorado and Wyoming, are asking the administration to impose a 25% quota for domestic uranium. Right now that figure is just 7%.

  • The companies, Ur-Energy and Energy Fuels, allege that the increasing dependence on foreign imports of uranium threatens national security.
  • They point to the fact the U.S. imports Russian uranium and argue that China is playing an increasing role in the global uranium enrichment market.

The big picture: This is the latest example of afflicted domestic industries seeking to seize on a sympathetic president. This is at least the fourth such petition seeking trade barriers because of alleged national security concerns during the Trump administration.

  • The other three: steel, aluminum and autos. The latter two resulted in new trade restrictions, while the outcome is not yet determined for autos.
  • Trump also slapped tariffs on solar imports last year under a different provision.

The other side: A coalition of some of America’s biggest utilities, including Exelon and Duke Energy, argue domestic quotas for uranium would actually hurt America’s national security by increasing costs for America’s nuclear power plants.

  • The group, whose members also include Pacific Gas And Electric and Xcel Energy, points out that America doesn’t import any Chinese uranium and that our biggest suppliers are strong allies: Australia and Canada.

What’s next: Once he receives the report, Trump has 90 days to decide whether or to what degree to follow through on the recommendations.

Go deeper