Concerned over U.S. reliance on imported minerals, a presidential panel is preparing a report to revive and expand U.S. uranium production. Members of Congress and policymakers are worried about consequences of America’s growing dependence on imported uranium for national defense and nuclear power production.
The Commerce Department reports that over 90 percent of America’s nuclear-fuel needs for weapons and naval operations, along with nuclear power generation, are supplied by foreign countries, with most coming from Russia and former Soviet Union states. There are only two operating uranium mines, in Wyoming and Blanding, Utah.
Now is the time — long overdue — to take a hard look at the collapse of U.S. uranium mining, and its implications for national defense and electricity production. In April, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross informed President Trump that America’s heavy reliance on uranium imports was a threat to national security. Although the president did not impose quotas on uranium imports, he acknowledged that the U.S. must ensure adequate domestic produced uranium for military purposes.
The focus on uranium addresses only a small part of U.S problem. The Department of Defense procures 750,000 tons of minerals and metals every year. The United States imports half of 50 minerals that the Defense Department and the Interior Department deem “critical” to national defense and the economy. We also rely on imports for all of 21 strategic minerals for the U.S. economy. China is the principal supplier for many of these minerals, especially rare earth elements, which are used in everything from missile guidance systems and satellites to smartphones. China now controls 80 percent of the international rare earth market for neodymium, cerium, promethium, and samarium, all essential for U.S economy.
U.S import dependence also includes many commodity metals such as cobalt, which is used in batteries for electric vehicles and in super alloys for turbine engines in jet aircraft. Manganese is needed for steelmaking and copper is essential in the production of jets, tanks, and warships. What’s particularly vexing about this dependence on imported minerals from foreign sources is that it’s a result of U.S own making.