By Jack Spencer
President Joe Biden says he wants a carbon-free future for the United States and acknowledges that to realize that future, nuclear energy is essential. Judging by the hundreds of billions, if not trillions, of taxpayer dollars that Biden is throwing at his version of “green energy,” combined with a willingness to strangle consumer choice, his commitment to his cause would seem rock solid—even though his policies make neither environmental nor economic sense.
Now, Biden has issued a proclamation establishing the Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni – Ancestral Footprints of the Grand Canyon National Monument, which effectively bans any new mining claims, including for uranium, on the nearly 1 million acres covered by the monument.
Some may think that such a policy is reasonable. No one wants to see an industrial mining operation in the Grand Canyon. Furthermore, respect for ancestral lands is laudable.
But that’s not the real story.
The Biden administration presents the decision as a choice between protecting the Grand Canyon and ancestral lands or allowing mining to occur, which, by implication, would destroy both.
This framing is simply not accurate.
The modern mining industry is perfectly capable of undertaking commercial operations while also protecting public health, safety, and the surrounding environment. Indeed, strict state and federal regulatory oversight ensures that mining operations are safely carried out and that disturbed landscapes are appropriately restored.
Further, the designated area lies to the north and south of the 1.2 million-square acre Grand Canyon National Park, so there is no threat that a tour of the Grand Canyon would one day be highlighted by a uranium mine pit stop.
While Biden likes to talk about green energy and energy independence, his policies toward reliable clean energy alternatives like nuclear and natural gas make it almost impossible for the American mining industry to develop the resources necessary to manufacture and fuel the president’s vision.
And in this case, it matters a lot.
The United States gets around 20% of its electricity from 93 commercial nuclear power reactors, and these reactors are powered by uranium fuel, of which the United States imports 95%. Though friendly countries like Canada, Australia, and Namibia provide about 36% of imports, the United States also depends on Russia for 14% of its uranium.
Interestingly, this was not always the case. Though there were ups and downs in production, the United States produced much of its own uranium until 1980, when the declines never recovered.
No one cared much about this dependence on Russian uranium until the spring of 2022, when it became abundantly clear that America’s reliance on Russian uranium was a real problem. Not only was America energy dependent on Russia for uranium and related nuclear fuel services, but roughly a billion dollars were flowing to Russian state-owned enterprises annually as a result.
This situation alone should have made removing from potential domestic production any uranium resources that could have been used to offset our Russian dependence a nonstarter. But it is worse than that, and here is why.
Uranium is produced in some of the least politically stable countries in the world, including Niger, which produces about 5% of the world’s uranium and is in the midst of a military coup. While America is not dependent on Nigerien uranium per se, the situation in Niger could have an effect on America.
That is because uranium is a global commodity and supply disruptions will raise global prices, affecting everyone who uses uranium. Though a near-term challenge, disruptions from Russia, Niger, or anywhere else should not be an issue for a uranium-rich country like the United States.
But it is.
The problem is that opening new mines in the United States is extremely difficult and policies like Biden’s decision to take domestic supplies out of service prevent domestic uranium markets from responding to foreign supply disruptions.
Not only do domestic uranium miners miss out on the opportunity to provide secure supplies of uranium to American reactors, but American reactor operators have no choice but to continue their dependence on foreign suppliers.
This problem is about to get far worse as the world could be at the beginning of a massive expansion of nuclear energy. This means greater demand for uranium in the future, tighter uranium markets, higher prices, and greater dependence on foreign suppliers for America’s energy.
The president’s supporters say his monument designation protects the Grand Canyon from uranium mining, but no one wants to mine in the Grand Canyon. To suggest as much is disingenuous.
With his announcement, Biden is protecting foreign uranium suppliers from American competition and preventing American reactors from accessing domestic fuel supplies. This is a loss on both the environmental and economic fronts for America and a win for foreign competitors and our adversaries.
Jack Spencer is a senior research fellow for energy and environmental policy at The Heritage Foundation.
Originally published by The Daily Signal. Republished with permission.
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