Ur Energy reps examine drill cuttings during a 2008 delineation effort in Wyoming's Great Divide Basin. (Dustin Bleizeffer/WyoFile)

The U.S. needs to revitalize its uranium mining industry and fast-track an expansion of its nuclear fuel processing capabilities to end reliance on Russia and other foriegn adversaries for its nuclear power industry, Wyoming’s congressional representatives say.

U.S. Sens. John Barrasso and Cynthia Lummis, and U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney — all Republicans — have called for a prohibition on Russian energy, including uranium for nuclear fuel, in response to Russia’s attack on Ukraine. When a ban should be put in place, however, remains a question.

U.S. reliance on Russian imports has increased since 2020 when it supplied approximately 16% of low-enriched uranium for U.S. nuclear power, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Another 22% came from Kazakhstan, 8% from Uzbekistan — both former Soviet Socialist Republics — while less than 14% came from domestic production.

“Banning Russian uranium imports will further defund Russia’s war machine, help revive American uranium production, and increase our national security.”

Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyoming)

An immediate ban on Russian uranium imports could result in spiking nuclear fuel prices and a more volatile world uranium market, according to industry experts.

Barrasso, ranking minority member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and Lummis introduced a bill in the Senate last week “to prohibit the importation of uranium from the Russian Federation.”

“While banning imports of Russian oil, gas and coal is an important step, it cannot be the last,” Barrasso said in a joint press release with Lummis and co-sponsors U.S. Sens. Roger Marshall (R-Kansas) and Kevin Cramer (R-North Dakota). “Banning Russian uranium imports will further defund Russia’s war machine, help revive American uranium production, and increase our national security.”

U.S. uranium production has steadily declined for more than a decade. (Energy Information Administration)

Domestic uranium production for nuclear fuel has cratered in recent years, including in Wyoming — once the No. 1 source of U.S. yellowcake uranium production. Industry officials say the U.S. has allowed its uranium mining and nuclear fuel processing capabilities to diminish over the past decade despite rich deposits of domestic uranium ore, including in Wyoming.

Russia’s attack on Ukraine, combined with calls to boost U.S. nuclear power capacity, presents a major challenge for TerraPower’s proposed liquid sodium-cooled Natrium nuclear power plant in Kemmerer. Currently, the only commercial source for the “high-assay low enriched uranium” (HALEU) that the Natrium plant will require is located in Russia.

Future fuel supply for Natrium

TerraPower officials say there’s much work to be done to expand domestic nuclear fuel capabilities by the time it commences operations at its Natrium power plant in Kemmerer in 2028.

“While there are multiple uranium mines in America, the United States does not currently have commercial scale HALEU enrichment capability, deconversion facilities or fuel fabrication facilities for Natrium,” TerraPower’s Director of External Affairs Jeff Navin told WyoFile via email.

TerraPower made a “multi-million dollar contribution” for a research facility in Ohio to help speed up domestic capacity for commercial scale nuclear fuels such as HALEU, Navin said. Combined with federal dollars, the Washington-based company headed by Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates is backing a $200 million effort to ramp up the development of commercial HALEU fuel in the U.S.

“All of those financial commitments were made before Russia invaded Ukraine, but the invasion has reiterated the need to expedite the development of domestic HALEU enrichment capabilities,” Navin said.

Dustin Bleizeffer is a Report for America Corps member covering energy and climate at WyoFile. He has worked as a coal miner, an oilfield mechanic, and for 25 years as a statewide reporter and editor primarily...

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  1. Yes absolutely!!! A ban needs to be in place ww3 is at the gates we’ve got to hustle be prepared shut down the supply I’m with the republicans and would back Mr.Bleizeffer “If We Got It we Should use it “ put out state back in good economic standing bring the jobs back to wyoming and the Money back not hand our resources away join America🇺🇸 In going back to work getting strong lean and mean if we have too ! Americans were never slothful !!!!
    Stand up !showup Do what we do best wyoming cowboy style

  2. DO IT! We’re going to need much more uranium (and thorium) in the near future to survive AGCC, and it’s still too expensive to extract it from sea water. Plus of course no $US should go to Putin while he’s threatening the world with war.

  3. When you quite using your own produces, You lose, Like a pig Farmer that buys his bacon, in town

  4. let’s regain our senses together. Natrium reactors were tried in California and failed as well as poisoning people to this day- you could look it up.
    Secondly, why would you buy a reactor from the guy you thought was putting microchips in COVID vaccine?

    1. Will those who have been vaccinated be allowed to work at the natrium plant? Or will the magnetism interfere with all the magical science that will be going on?

  5. Uranium mining and milling is a Faustian bargain on its best of days. Never mind there is no place in Wyoming that can turn semi-refined yellowcake ore into anything resembling nuclear fuel… the best we could do here during the halcyon days of the Jeffrey City uranium boom was mine the stuff, crush it to powder, and ship it over to Riverton to be leached with sulfuric acid at Western Nuclear before it was sent off tof araway places to be made into UO2 pellets for reactors. Like nearly everyt5hing else in the Wyoming minerale conomy , uranium was a bulk commodity to be exported, not the finished product. Very little value added stuff is actually made in Wyoming from raw material, especially radioactive stuff. Unfortunately , the good money comes on the other end of the line, in processing. Anyone who thinks that the Terra plant will be a money mill for Wyoming domestic uranium fuel production is hallucinating. Never mind the quantity will be low, we simply cannot make yellowcake into fungible product here. Only three mines are produciny uranium in America [resently , and they are all in Utah. Uranium production in the USA is at an alltime low. Terra won’t move the needle much at all. Maybe not at all here in Wyoming providing raw material for nuclear fuel.
    The downside is uranium mining and milling is horrendous environmentally. There are no longer any open pit uranium mines in America…the underground mines are awful, choked with Radon gas to be managed, for starters. Then the horribleness of in-situ leaching with very strong sulfuric acid. Bottom line is a ton of ore yields maybe 2 pounds of yellowcake , but requires a helluva lot of groundwater and toxic chemicals to concentrate the ore. Nasty materials – Fluorine , for instance – that need to be dealt with. Then you have to ship the concentrated ore a thousand miles across several states to get to the next stage of processing.

    When Barrasso and Lummis , and others, start yammering about Wyoming becoming a uranium savior, be very very wary . Words are cheap . Politics too often ignores geochemical realities and the real world consequences from cradle to grave of driving something on beliefs alone…

  6. I am curious as to why no one in our state is recommending hydro power and an alternative energy source? It’s renewable, clean, doesn’t require toxic waste disposal. Hoover dam is a model dam for all smaller dam projects. Dams can provide so many benefits to millions of people

    1. Hydropower here in the West ? Are you still living in the 1980’s ? ALL the big dams with turbines are running low on water , thanks to climate change. Glen Canyon Dam at the head of Lake Powell is already on rations, being at its lowest level since the reservoir first filled in 1963. In as few as three years it may have fallen below the minimum pool point where the turbines cannot be used. My own Buffalo Bill Dam near Cody is on edge. The downstream irrigators are being put on notice this year to be prepared for a very short growing season waterwise. No hydroelectric dam in the West is above the claimate change driven drought fracas.

  7. I have not seen information on how this impacts the $2 billion “match” under the infrastructure bill. I know there is a timeline TerraPower has to meet to get the $2 billion. I think this may be more challenging now with the limited supply of HALEU.