Trade War Spills Into Uranium as U.S. Weighs Import Tariffs

Irving Hamilton
July 18, 2018

The Commerce Department has started an investigation into the impact of uranium imports on USA national security, a move that could result in tariffs and add another front to the Trump administration's trade fight. USA uranium miners supply less than 5 percent of domestic consumption for the metal and say it's increasingly hard to compete with state-subsidized companies overseas.

Uranium is used in the US nuclear arsenal and powers the Navy's nuclear aircraft carriers and submarines, along with 99 USA commercial nuclear reactors that produce 20 percent of the electricity consumed in the United States.

In a release Wednesday, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross says the investigation will cover all aspects of the industry, from mining through enrichment for electricity generation, its role in military defence, and other industrial uses.

Ross added that the US production of uranium has fallen to 5 percent of USA consumption needs from 49 percent in 1987.

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Ross noted that three US mining companies have idled in recent years and that two companies representing half of America's uranium mining efforts had laid off more than 50 percent of their workforce over the last two years. Nearly 90 percent of uranium delivered to USA reactors was from foreign nations in 2016, according to the government agency.

Probes on steel and aluminum imports have led to tariffs and quotas on the metals, prompting retaliation from trading partners including Canada, Mexico and the European Union.

The administration cited national security concerns in imposing the steel tariffs last month.

The Commerce Department said Wednesday it will probe "whether the present quantity and circumstances of uranium ore and product imports into the USA threaten to impair the national security".

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