Republican lawmakers call for measures to spur new U.S. uranium mining

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republican U.S. lawmakers this week urged President Donald Trump’s administration to ease restrictions on uranium mining on federal lands, as a Cabinet-level committee prepares recommendations this month for boosting domestic nuclear fuel production.

“We strongly encourage you to make improved access to federal lands with high-grade uranium deposits a top priority,” according to the Sept. 30 letter from 27 Western state Republican senators and Congress members to Trump’s national security and economic advisers Richard O’Brien and Larry Kudlow, both co-chairs on the uranium mining working group.

“Greater access to our own resources will help put Americans to work exploring for and responsibly producing the uranium that our country needs,” wrote the lawmakers from the western states from Alaska to Utah.

Trump created the United States Nuclear Fuel Working Group in July to help U.S. uranium miners and nuclear industry struggling with foreign competition, after he rejected a section 232 trade petition by two companies seeking quotas for domestic production. The group has met several times since its formation and is expected to detail its proposals by an Oct. 10 deadline.

The lawmakers, including Alaskan Senate Energy Committee chair Lisa Murkowski, said the group should lift access restrictions on uranium-rich areas of the country and expedite environmental reviews for mining projects - proposals that the Commerce Department had outlined when it named uranium a critical mineral here in June.

Amber Reimondo, energy program director of the Grand Canyon Trust, said members of the working group told her and several conservation groups last week that it is also currently mulling a list of ideas that had been outlined by the U.S. nuclear industry here in a letter in August.

That letter from the Nuclear Energy Institute asked the Trump administration to authorize funds through the 1950 Defense Production Act to procure domestic fuel for defense requirements and boost federal reserves of uranium for nuclear power utilities. It also urged unspecified, long-term “direct payments to either a U.S. utility or domestic uranium producer for sale of U.S.-origin uranium to a utility.”

The Commerce Department did not immediately comment.

Reimondo said she is concerned that the administration’s recommendations could open areas near the Grand Canyon and the Bears Ears National Monument, which contain uranium deposits, to new mining.

Reporting by Valerie Volcovici; Editing by Marguerita Choy