There’s a saying on Capitol Hill that the largest obstacles in politics are usually overcome by working across the aisle.
U.S. Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyoming, found success that way by working with Democrats on a number of issues of the annual defense policy bill that supports nuclear energy and mineral acquisition in Wyoming.
The Senate voted 86-11 on Thursday to approve its version of the 2024 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).
“This bill funds $183 million in projects at Cheyenne’s F.E. Warren Air Force Base, prioritizes nuclear modernization and maintains our ICBM (intercontinental ballistic missile) readiness,” Barrasso told Cowboy State Daily. “It also includes bipartisan legislation I’ve championed to make sure we maintain a robust C-130 aircraft inventory providing airlift across the globe.”
The $886 billion bill will next move to the Republican-led U.S. House, where it may face more of a challenge. There was much debate in the House earlier this month over a number of contentious amendments pushed by conservatives.
Barrasso shepherded three important amendments into the final version of the bill.
The first is an amendment authorizing hundreds of millions of dollars to be spent toward increasing domestic production of low-enriched uranium for existing reactors. This money also will go toward accelerating efforts to ensure the availability of high-assay, low-enriched uranium for advanced reactors in America.
The amendment known as the Nuclear Fuel Security Act passed with a 96-3 vote. It’s nearly identical to legislation Barrasso introduced in 2022 with Sens. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, and James Risch, R-Idaho.
“We know that energy security is national security,” Barrasso said. “The bipartisan NDAA includes my legislation to counter Russia’s energy monopoly by ensuring our nuclear fuel supply chain begins with American uranium and ends with American fuel.”
Microsoft founder Bill Gates is funding a TerraPower advanced nuclear reactor to be built in Kemmerer.
Uranium mining was a booming industry in Wyoming, but has diminished since the 1980s. Russia now supplies roughly 24% of enriched uranium imports in America at a cost of nearly $1 billion per year.
“Russia uses these revenues to fund its invasion of Ukraine,” Barrasso told the Senate on Thursday night. “Here in America, we have the resources to fuel our own reactors.”
Another successful amendment trims licensing fees for advanced reactors and makesdomestic nuclear enterprises more competitive on the global stage.
Barrasso also worked with Minnesota Democrat Amy Klobuchar to pass an amendment that requires the Air Force maintain at least 271 C-130 aircraft and refurbish and maintain no fewer than 150 LGM-35A Sentinel intercontinental ballistic missile silos. An ICBM is a ballistic missile primarily designed for nuclear warhead delivery.
This amendment directly benefits the future viability of Cheyenne’s F.E. Warren Air Force Base, which oversees 400 of these missiles, spread over three different bases.
“In an increasingly dangerous world, it’s vital our military has the resources it needs to keep Americans safe,” Barrasso said.
Barrasso also passed an amendment requiring President Joe Biden’s administration to combat “blood batteries” by establishing a cooperative framework to end human rights abuses, forced labor and exploitation of child labor related to mineral mining around the world.
Cobalt is one of the most important minerals used to make electric car batteries. In January, the State Department released a memorandum of understanding to support a commitment between the Democratic Republic of Congo and Zambia to build a “productive supply chain, from mine to assembly line.” Cobalt from the Congo has been at the center of child labor abuses.
Shielding Against China And Russia
Barrasso also touted the NDAA as investing in cutting-edge technologies, confronting growing threats from China and other adversaries, and giving servicemembers a pay raise.
An amendment from Sen. James Lankford, R-Oklahoma, mandates the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative to issue reports on their work to ensure that the United States outcompetes China in the race to secure valuable rare earth minerals. The Senate also passed an amendment that would encourage domestic production of these minerals key for the production of green energy.
An amendment from Manchin and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, passed earlier in the week would prohibit the sale of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to foreign adversaries, including China and Russia.
Leo Wolfson can be reached at Leo@CowboyStateDaily.com.