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Russian uranium ban helps Utah; Navajo Nation wants shipments stopped

Posted at 4:19 PM, May 24, 2024

SALT LAKE CITY — A bill signed by the president is a boost for Utah’s uranium industry, even while the Navajo Nation asks that shipments of the ore stop.

This month, President Biden signed the Prohibiting Russian Uranium Imports Act. The United States has been importing 35% of its nuclear fuel from Russia, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

The act phases out Russian uranium imports and then bans them by 2028.

“For Utah, we think that this will probably provide a little bit of uplift in uranium prices,” said Curtis Moore, the senior vice president of marketing and corporate development for Energy Fuels.

It mines uranium near La Sal and operates a uranium mill next to White Mesa, both in southeast Utah.

“So, it is possible that there could be a greater economic incentive to mine uranium in Utah,” Moore said, though he added the benefit could be slight.

“Yeah, I think a few more jobs is certainly possible,” Moore said.

Records gathered by Open Secrets shows Energy Fuels lobbied on the bill.

Utah has been having a uranium resurgence, though the increase is nothing like the Cold War-era mining and milling. Uranium production in the 1950s and 1960s, has left toxic sites and sick miners across the Four Corners, particularly on the Navajo Nation.

Days before President Biden signed the Russian import ban, the president of the Navajo Nation signed a resolution asking that uranium no longer be shipped across Navajo tribal lands.

“We are elevating it to President Biden himself,” Justin Ahasteen, executive director of the Navajo Nation Washington, D.C., office, said in a update broadcast on Youtube in early May, “to make sure that all federal resources are deployed in order to find different fixes to respect tribal sovereignty so that we can enforce on own laws on the nation but also prevent harmful risk of uranium exposure through transportation of uranium mining on the Navajo Nation.”

Moore, while saying he respects the Navajo president and people, insisted the transportation of uranium on highways is safe.

“We shipped about 300,000 tons of uranium ore across the Navajo Nation using many of these same roads between about 2007 and 2015,” Moore said, “And so the relatively recent past, with no incidents.”

A search of a database of hazardous material accidents maintained by the U.S. Department of Transportation shows no record of a uranium shipment spilling on the Navajo Nation, or anywhere in Utah, Arizona or New Mexico, this century.

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