Energy

What Do Clinton Supporters Have Against American Uranium?

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Andrew Follett Energy and Science Reporter
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Why is the U.S. get so much of its uranium from Kazakhstan? Ask Democratic Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who has been preventing America’s largest uranium deposit from being mined since 2013.

By hampering uranium mining in Virginia, McAuliffe, who chaired Hillary’s 2008 presidential campaign, has helped the state-owned company Kazatomprom boost its exports to U.S. nuclear plants as domestic production collapsed by 65 percent from 2013 to 2014, according to new data from the Energy Information Administration (EIA). The amount of Kazatomprom uranium purchased by U.S. reactors doubled from 2013 to 2014 — a huge boon to the state-owned company with close ties to Russian interests.

In 2013, McAuliffe threatened to veto legislation to end the 33-year-old moratorium on uranium mining in Virginia, citing worries that mining could harm drinking water quality for those downstream. The governor even refused to develop uranium mining regulations. Now, Virginia Uranium, which owns the potential mine site, is suing McAuliffe over his decision not to allow uranium mining in the state. The company argues that uranium regulations are the purview of the federal government, not the states.

Proponents also argue that McAuliffe’s veto threat stifled economic and job growth from mining activities. A study commissioned by the Virginia Coal and Energy Commission found that a full scale uranium mining operation would support more than a thousand jobs across the state over the estimated 35 years of the mine’s operation. But those benefits never accrued and now uranium mining in the U.S. has seen a huge decline.

In 2014, American uranium mining was on the decline, with fewer new holes being drilled and expenditures for new land, exploration, and drilling declining 22 percent, according to EIA data. This created an opening in the market which has been filled by Kazakhstan.

American commercial nuclear reactors doubled their purchases of Kazakhstani uranium in 2014, largely due to the decline in the amount of American uranium purchased. Roughly 12 percent of uranium purchased originated in Kazakhstan in 2014, up from approximately 6 percent the previous two years.

Of the 10 largest producing uranium mines in 2014, five were located in Kazakhstan, all of which are directly controlled to some extent by Kazatomprom, the world’s largest producer of uranium.

Kazatomprom is closely linked to Russia in the global uranium trade, and has signed three 50:50 nuclear joint venture agreements totaling $10 billion for new nuclear reactors, uranium production and enrichment with various Russian state-owned atomic energy companies such as Rosatom and Uranium One.

Virginia’s loss is a gain for Kazakhstan and Russia. Interestingly enough, the state-owned Uranium One allegedly enjoyed preferential treatment by Hillary Clinton’s State Department of State.

While Clinton was secretary of state, the department approved the sale of approximately 20 percent of U.S. uranium production capacity to Russian controlled companies like Uranium One. This came as Uranium One’s chairman donated $2.35 million to the Clinton Foundation — a donations which was not publicly disclosed by the Clintons.

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