SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — President Donald Trump’s $1.5 billion proposal to prop up the country’s nuclear fuel industry has emboldened at least one company to take steps toward boosting operations at dormant uranium mines around the West, including outside Grand Canyon National Park.
The company, Canada-based Energy Fuels Inc., announced a stock sale late Thursday and said it would use the proceeds for its uranium mining operations in the U.S. West.
The Trump administration asked Congress this week for $1.5 billion over 10 years to create a new national stockpile of U.S.-mined uranium, saying that propping up U.S. uranium production in the face of cheaper imports is a matter of vital energy security. Approval is far from certain in a highly bipartisan Congress.
Some Democratic lawmakers, and market analysts across the political spectrum, charge that the Trump administration’s overall aim is really about helping a few uranium companies that can’t compete in the global market, and their investors.
Demand for the nuclear fuel has languished worldwide since Japan’s 2011 Fukushima disaster. U.S. uranium production has plummeted 96% in the last five years, the U.S. Energy Information Administration reported Thursday.
Energy Fuels Inc., a Toronto-based corporation that is the leading uranium mining company in the U.S., announced it was selling stock and putting the nearly $17 million in proceeds into its mining operations in Utah, Wyoming, Arizona, Texas and elsewhere in response to Trump’s 2021 budget. Company spokesman Curtis Moore said Friday that could mean opening a mine about 15 miles from the Grand Canyon’s South Rim entrance.
Environmentalists and Democrats have opposed uranium mining outside the national park, mainly over concerns it could contaminate water resources. Republicans say mining could bring much-needed jobs to the region.
Energy Fuels had been one of the main mining companies seeking U.S. taxpayer support for domestic uranium mining. It also helped sell the Trump administration on cutting the size of Bears Ears National Monument in Utah to open more land for possible future mining, and oil and gas development.
Energy Fuels has no mining claims or land inside the former territory of Bears Ears, Moore said Friday. “So, that’s a hard no,” he said, to any suggestion it planned any immediate uranium development there.
Launching operations at the company’s Canyon Mine claim outside the Grand Canyon is definitely on the table, however, if Congress approves Trump’s proposal, he said.
“Depending on how things go in the coming weeks and months, we may be in a position to use some of the money to put that small mine into production,” Moore said.
Trump made the request for a new national uranium reserve in his 2021 budget request this week. It was the latest illustration that trying to rescue the U.S. nuclear and coal industries is a political priority for the Republican president, who often invokes national security as justification.
The move has a range of critics.
“It’s not the responsibility of the taxpayer to bail out an industry, whether that’s uranium, solar, coal, what have you,” said Katie Tubb, a senior energy policy analyst at the conservative Washington Heritage Foundation.