Uranium Producers Warn Biden’s Russian Import Ban Could Lead To Supply Shortages

Leading uranium producers have praised President Joe Biden’s recent ban on Russian uranium imports but caution that his administration’s restrictions on domestic mining and outdated federal permitting processes could result in supply shortages. The ban, which Biden signed into law, also unlocked $2.7 billion in uranium conversion and enrichment funds allocated by Congress in December.

However, producers argue that the administration’s push for land conservation, which has designated millions of federal acres as off-limits for production, coupled with a lengthy and out-of-date federal permitting process and a lack of domestic enrichment infrastructure, could leave the U.S. dependent on Russian imports for years to come.

“I do absolutely think there’s a bit of a split-screen approach” in the Biden administration’s push for domestic uranium production, said Scott Melbye, senior vice president of Energy Fuels and head of the Uranium Producers of America.

The ban includes waivers allowing U.S. reactors to continue importing Russian uranium through 2027 if no other alternatives are available. This, along with the regulatory hurdles and mixed messaging from the administration, could make the U.S. vulnerable to changes or an abrupt cutoff in supplies from Russia.

“Putin could wake up tomorrow and say, ‘Yeah, this is so important to you guys, I’ll forfeit the billion dollars I’m getting every year just to damage U.S. energy generation,'” Melbye warned. “That is a very real possibility.”

Uranium prices have risen above $100 this spring, the highest point in 17 years, due to higher global demand and a shift in public opinion as countries warm toward nuclear power as a reliable, carbon-free energy source. Curtis Moore, a senior vice president at Energy Fuels, noted that enriched uranium prices have increased even more, up to 10 to 12 times prewar levels, reflecting “a real pinch point and bottleneck” in markets.

Permitting headaches are also a concern, with new mining projects taking roughly 10 years to be permitted under the EPA’s National Environmental Policy Act review process.

Melbye estimates that the U.S. can extract some 45 million pounds of uranium annually, about half the total domestic demand per year, if conditions remain favorable for producers.