Republicans offer Russian uranium ban


Pivot to increase mining on domestic and Indigenous land

In response to Russian strongman Vladimir Putin’s February 24th invasion of sovereign Ukraine, the Biden administration quickly martialed global economic sanctions against Russian aggression by targeting its oil, coal and liquified gas imports. But at the behest of the US nuclear industry lobby, the Nuclear Energy Institute, the White House was quiet on sanctioning Russian uranium. While Russia imports 8% of US oil, 5% of US coal and next to nothing in liquified natural gas, Russia’s state-funded uranium enrichment industry currently imports 16% of its cheap atomic fuel supply to US electric utilities for power reactors. The percentage rises to nearly 50% of the nation’s atomic fuel supply when Russia’s Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan allies are included.

On March 17, 2022, now suddenly sanctimonious US Republican Senators Kevin Cramer (R/ND), John Barrasso (R-WY), Cynthia Lummis (R-WY), and Roger Marshall (R-KS) introduced federal legislation to finally ban the import of Russian uranium. With the condition that in exchange to steeply ramping up the nation’s domestic uranium mining and production at US taxpayers’ expense to expand violations of sovereign Indigenous peoples’ rights as well as attacks on state’s rights. “While banning imports of Russian oil, gas and coal is an important step, it cannot be the last. Banning Russian uranium imports will further defund Russia’s war machine, help revive American uranium production, and increase our national security,” said Senator Barrasso.

In contrast to  the nuclear industry champions’ claim for decades that atomic power has provided the US with domestic energy security, the US Energy Information Administration reported in 2020 that, in fact, 91% of the nation’s nuclear fuel supply as purchased by US utilities is imported from foreign countries, largely Russia and its allies as revealed. That’s been a pretty good deal for both US nuclear utilities and Putin, only until recently.

Environmentalists and human rights activists globally have long challenged the nuclear fuel chain as a toxic, radioactive pox upon the land and its people.  Uranium mining  imposes the unacceptable risk and consequence of water contamination, including the vital resources of the Colorado River that runs through the threatened Grand Canyon, where a grandfathered claim is still being fought, that supplies millions of people and tributaries that support wildlife, vegetation and local Native American tribes including the Hualapai and Havasupai. Similarly, a uranium-emboldened Congress now threatens to legislatively undermine the protection of precious water resources that motivated a permanent ban on uranium mining in the Commonwealth of Virginia only recently upheld by the Supreme Court in 2021.

The answer, as Cramer, Barrasso, Lummis and Marshall now propose, is not to merely ban Russian uranium imports for its criminal aggression against a sovereign nation in exchange for domestic environmental justice violations of the sovereign rights of Indigenous people and States’ rights.  National policy must abandon uranium mining altogether and bring an end to nuclear power’s production of more and more dangerous high-level radioactive waste which has no demonstrated safe long-term management plan. Photo credit: Katie Godowski

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