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Washington continues critical inquiries into rare earths and uranium supply chains

by Greg Klein | July 15, 2019

While somewhat relaxing its concern about uranium, the U.S. appears increasingly worried about rare earths supply. A Reuters exclusive says Washington has begun an inventory to itemize domestic RE projects.

Washington continues critical inquiries into rare earths and uranium supply chains

With an inventory of domestic RE projects
already underway, the U.S. called for a study
of uranium supply chain potential.

“The Pentagon wants miners to describe plans to develop U.S. rare earths mines and processing facilities, and asked manufacturers to detail their needs for the minerals, according to the document, which is dated June 27,” the news agency reported. “Responses are required by July 31, a short time frame that underscores the Pentagon’s urgency.”

The request mentions the possibility of investment by the military, Reuters added.

The move marks another development in American plans to reduce the country’s dependency on critical minerals from economic and geopolitical rivals. Last month the U.S. announced a new critical minerals strategy calling for closer co-operation with allies. Out of an official list of 35 critical minerals, rare earths repeatedly come up for special attention. China supplies 80% of American demand for this economic and military essential, with more imports coming indirectly from China. Compounding the conundrum is the fact that America’s only rare earths mine, Mountain Pass in California, ships its entire output to China.

Last month Reuters stated that U.S. President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau instructed their officials “to develop a joint action plan on critical minerals collaboration.”

But if heightened American urgency about some critical minerals looks positive for Canadian projects, so does a reduction in urgency about U.S. uranium supplies.

Cameco Corp TSX:CCO expressed itself pleased with Trump’s decision not to introduce new trade restrictions on uranium imports.

The president disagreed with a July 12 report stating that the country’s heavy reliance on imports threaten to impair U.S. national security. The secretary of commerce found the country’s foreign dependency now accounts for 93% of American uranium supply, up from 85.8% in 2009. The secretary attributed the number to “increased production by foreign state-owned enterprises, which have distorted global prices and made it more difficult for domestic mines to compete,” the White House stated.

But, citing significant concerns nonetheless, Trump called for the creation of a nuclear fuel working group “to develop recommendations for reviving and expanding domestic nuclear fuel production” within 90 days.

Cameco president/CEO Tim Gitzel said the company “also sees tremendous value in increasing co-operation between the United States and Canada to address critical mineral issues and strengthen security of supply on a North American, rather than strictly national, basis.”

Trump and Trudeau’s commitment to a joint action plan “is an excellent initiative, and we see uranium being a key component of that strategy,” Gitzel added.

The U.S. report results from a petition by Energy Fuels TSX:EFR and Ur-Energy TSX:URE, who together took credit for over half of U.S. uranium production in 2017. Yet their estimates for last year showed total domestic production supplied only about 2% of U.S. demand.

The companies called for a 25% domestic quota on uranium purchases in the U.S., suggesting state-owned companies in Russia, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan keep prices below a profitable threshold for American producers. The Eurasian trio provided about one-third of U.S. demand in 2017.

“If Russia and its allies take control of this critical fuel, the threat to U.S. national and energy security would be incalculable,” the companies maintained.

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