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Trump weighs tariffs or quotas on uranium imports

The nuclear power industry argues import limits would bring higher costs for electricity producers and force some out of business

U.S. Department of Commerce building in Washington (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
U.S. Department of Commerce building in Washington (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

President Donald Trump is considering a Commerce Department report on whether imported uranium ore poses a threat to U.S. national security and the domestic production of nuclear power.

The president will weigh whether to impose tariffs or quotas on imported uranium following claims by the uranium mining industry that limits on foreign uranium imports are necessary to aid a shrinking industry. The nuclear power industry, meanwhile, argues import limits would bring higher costs for electricity producers and force some out of business.

The Commerce Department announced it met the Sunday deadline to submit the report to the White House but offered no details Monday on whether it recommended some form of limits on imported uranium such as tariffs and quotas.

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Trump is currently considering action on another Commerce report on the national security implications of imported cars and vehicle parts. The report has not been released, but the president has threatened to impose tariffs on cars from Mexico and the European Union.

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Potential duties could raise the cost of imported parts automakers and suppliers use, deal a financial blow to the network car dealerships throughout the country and increase the cost of new and used cars for consumers.

The president’s imposition last year of Section 232 steel and aluminum tariffs on trading partners Canada, the European Union and Mexico has generated push back from the countries and retaliatory duties on select U.S. exports. Officials in Canada and Mexico also are balking at voting to approve the proposed United States-Mexico-Canada trade agreement until the tariffs are lifted.

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The president can accept, reject or modify the uranium report recommendations. Commerce began the review in 2018 under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962 after domestic producers submitted a petition requesting the national security examination of U.S. use of foreign ore as mining and production in the United States have declined.

It is unclear what actions the president will take, although the Interior Department last year added uranium to a list of minerals it identified as critical to national security and the economy.

In their petition to Commerce, Energy Fuels Resources and Ur-Energy USA Inc. argued reliance on uranium from Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and China were undermining the U.S. industry and could potentially endanger fuel for nuclear-powered electricity and the military, which uses uranium for submarines, aircraft carriers and weapons.

The companies proposed import quotas that carve out 25 percent of the market for U.S. producers and a “Buy American” policy for the U.S. military and government-owned utilities that would require 10-year purchase contracts.

But a 2018 Nuclear Energy Institute study said quotas would force the nuclear power generation industry “to replace ongoing purchases of relatively cheap imported uranium with more expensive domestic uranium.”

It added that “even without the increased costs associated with the proposed quota, U.S. nuclear plants in competitive markets are under extreme financial pressure. In most markets today, nuclear generators are either unable or barely able to cover their total fixed costs of operation, including compensation for the risk associated with owning and operating a nuclear facility.”

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