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U.S. uranium miners say ready to ramp up if Trump approves quotas

Kitco News

By Valerie Volcovici

WASHINGTON, July 11 (Reuters) - Two leading U.S. uranium mining companies say they are prepared to quickly ramp up production if President Donald Trump approves their request for curbs on imports this week.

Trump is expected to decide as soon as Friday on the petitions from Colorado-based Energy Fuels Inc and Wyoming-based Ur-Energy Inc - which seek quotas requiring 25% of the U.S. uranium market be sourced domestically - after reviewing recommendations from the Commerce Department in April.

Two sources familiar with the matter said the White House was weighing three options, including taking no action, delaying a decision for six months, and requiring utilities to purchase 5% of their uranium from domestic mines each year - rising 5 points per year until it reaches 25%.

The United States sourced just 7% of its uranium domestically in 2017, with most of the rest coming from Canada, Australia and Russia, according to the Energy Information Administration.

"If we get a positive determination out of the president, our company is going to start doing things immediately," said Mark Chalmers, president of Energy Fuels, in an interview this week.

The company could lift production to “between 2.5 to 3 million pounds per year” under the right conditions, said Chief Operating Officer Paul Goranson, who was also in the interview, from just under 1 million pounds in 2018.

UR-Energy, meanwhile, could ramp up production at its existing Lost Creek mine in Wyoming to 1 million pounds per year of yellowcake (U3O8) and start up its Shirley Basin project "relatively quickly" said John Cash, the company's vice president of regulatory affairs.

Ur-Energy recovered 375,000 pounds in 2018.

The companies have both won key federal permits over the last two years that could help them lift output.

Last year, the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service approved the expansion of Energy Fuels’ La Sal and Daneros mines, the latter of which is located just outside the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah.

The BLM in March also approved Ur-Energy's application to double the surface area of its Lost Creek mine in Wyoming and is reviewing final permitting for the Shirley Basin surface uranium mine that operated until the 1990s.

The Ad Hoc Utilities group, representing utilities with nuclear power plants, opposes the proposed 25% quota, saying it would add $500 million to $800 million in annual costs for the industry.

Environmental groups and some Native American tribes also oppose support for the uranium industry out of concern mining would harm water supplies.

(Reporting by Valerie Volcovici Editing by Marguerita Choy)

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