The US moves to stop buying uranium from Russia and start producing it at home

/ A long stack of barrels three rows high.

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President Joe Biden signed a new law that bars the US from importing uranium from Russia, in the hopes of jumpstarting domestic mining to fuel nuclear reactors. The law also unlocks $2.7 billion in federal funding to shore up that domestic supply chain, which Congress previously approved pending limits on imports from Russia.

Russia has historically been one of the biggest suppliers of uranium to the US and other countries. When the US banned coal, oil, and gas imports in response to the war in Ukraine in 2022, it excluded uranium from its sanctions, which showed how much the US depends on foreign imports of uranium, particularly from Russia and its allies.

Since then, there’s been a bipartisan push to kickstart domestic uranium mining and processing. For the Biden administration, uranium plays a key role in meeting US climate goals by pairing renewables like solar and wind with more consistent electricity generation from nuclear reactors. But while nuclear energy might help the US reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, it’s also stokes conflicts with communities impacted by uranium production and nuclear waste.

“Our nation’s clean energy future will not rely on Russian imports,” Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm said in a press release. “We are making investments to build out a secure nuclear fuel supply chain here in the United States.”

Russian state nuclear energy company Rosatom supplies around 20 percent of America’s enriched uranium. Russia also dominates the world’s commercial supply of more highly-enriched uranium, used to fuel next-generation nuclear reactors.

Domestic uranium production has been next to nothing in the US since 2020. But that’s changing. Three mines in Arizona and Utah started churning out the material in December with growing interest in nuclear energy as an alternative to fossil fuels pushing up uranium prices.

That includes a mine near the Grand Canyon called Pinyon Plain that the Havasupai Tribe and environmental advocates have opposed for years over risks to the surrounding land, sacred sites, and water supply. The US is still cleaning up hundreds of abandoned Cold War-era uranium mines on Navajo Nation land that have been linked to cancer and other illnesses.

Nuclear energy proponents are confident there’s been enough technological advancement to prevent previous disasters, although communities along the supply chain for uranium are still on edge.

The Biden administration created a new national monument near the Grand Canyon that prevents uranium mining along vast swathes of land within borders, a move that state lawmakers are fighting. Pinyon Plain was already grandfathered in with an existing permitted claim and will still be allowed to dig up uranium within the new monument’s borders.