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Cheney Spearheading Efforts To Get Dept. Of Energy To Establish Uranium Reserve

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By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily

U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney is spearheading a congressional attempt to get the U.S. Department of Energy to establish a uranium reserve as it was directed to do in 2020.

Cheney and other Republican members of the U.S. House on Friday sent a letter to Department of Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm expressing “continued concern” that the department has not used $75 million appropriated to stockpile uranium.

The letter requests quicker action by DOE.  

“This delay is particularly disturbing as the current situation between Russia and Ukraine has brought to the forefront the vulnerability of the United States reliance on Russia, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan for the uranium needed to power our nuclear plants” the letter reads.  

About half of the fuel used in American nuclear reactors comes from Russia and affiliated countries – a situation Cheney’s letter called “untenable” in light of Russia’s actions against Ukraine.  

“It is imperative that DOE stand up the uranium reserve as soon as possible,” the letter said, as a matter of “national, energy, and economic security.”  

The letter was signed by Cheney and Republican colleagues Reps. Dan Newhouse (Washington), Markwayne Mullin (Oklahoma), Adam Kinzinger (Illinois), Richard Hudson (North Carolina), Russ Fulcher (Idaho), and Michael Burgess (Texas).  

Deadline 

Congress appropriated $75 million to DOE to set up the reserve in December 2020. However, Dr. Kathryn Huff, nominated to serve as the DOE’s assistant secretary for nuclear energy, said more steps must be taken to establish the reserve.

Cheney and the other representatives asked to see a timetable by April 4 for the reserve’s creation. It also asked that the DOE declare a date for the bidding process for contractors, and a deadline for the end of the bidding process.  

The letter also demands an explanation for the delay.  

“Please provide the basis and reasoning for why DOE has failed to request funding for this vital program for the second fiscal year in a row,” it said.  

After receiving initial funding for the program the DOE did not request any funding in its budget request for fiscal year 2022, according to a statement by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, which is a nonpartisan Congressional watchdog of national expenses.  

The reserve is to use domestic uranium sources to build up a stash of nuclear fuel that could be used for civilian power generation, minimizing any possible disruptions in the supply chain.

Another purpose of the reserve, according to Cheney’s office, is to reinvigorate the domestic nuclear fuel supply chain and the facilities involved in it.  

Funding 

Funding models for the project have shrunk drastically since 2020, said GAO director Allison Bawden, who emphasized that her agency is neutral on the topic.  

Under the administration of former President Donald Trump, Bawden said, the national strategy was to appropriate $150 million each year for at least 10 years toward the project.  

“Obviously that’s not what happened,” Bawden continued. 

Although Congress slated $75 million for the project in fiscal year 2021, it did not appropriate any additional funds to it in 2022 – and there’s no concrete indication of whether funding for the reserve will resume in future budgets.  

The GAO also identified weaknesses in the uranium production process.  

Uranium must be extracted, converted, enriched and fabricated “before it can be handed over to a reactor,” said Bawden. And some of those things can’t be accomplished inside the U.S.  

There is only one enrichment facility within the U.S. currently, and a shortage in domestic conversion services as well.

“Pieces need to be put in place to strengthen the overall supply chain, so we could produce whatever we needed domestically,” Bawden said. “That’s not to say we’d make the choice to produce it domestically – but at least (the U.S.) would have that choice.”  

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Australian Mining Company Says Uranium Deposits Cover Several Miles In Red Desert

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By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily

An Australian uranium company exploring in southwest Wyoming on Monday reported finding what appear to be uranium deposits covering several miles in the Great Divide Basin.

GTI Resources, which just completed a round of exploratory drilling in the Great Divide Basin, posted to its Twitter account Monday a map featuring “roll front trend,” or uranium deposits its drilling revealed.  

The post notes 17,640 feet — about 3.3 miles — “of mineralized roll fronts found,” with 80% of the project area still to be tested.  

A follow-up drilling process is planned.  

GTI’s 100-hole probe known as the Thor project, in northwestern Sweetwater County, began late November 2021 and was completed on schedule in mid-March despite seasonal wildlife restrictions pertaining to sage grouse.  

GTI announced earlier this month that it had found a likely source of raw uranium or “yellowcake” through its exploration. The company told Cowboy State Daily at the time that it planned to announce by mid-April just how much uranium the area might contain.

Colorado Company Gearing Up 

GTI’s properties roughly surround the Lost Creek project, which is the domain of Colorado company UR Energy.  

UR Energy reported that its own exploration indicated the presence of 11.9 million pounds of uranium, with another 6.6 million pounds “inferred” by the exploration.

The report, noted UR Energy in a separate caveat, is speculative.  

UR Energy secured an additional six mine units on the Lost Creek license in 2021, bringing the total to nine. According to its company website, UR Energy expects to have permits and authorizations for production completed sometime this year – along with an increase in its maximum extraction allowance.  

“As we await the return of a robust uranium market, we have prepared (a mining unit) and the Lost Creek plant for an efficient transition to full production rates,” the website said.

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Global Mining Business Finds Significant Deposits Of Uranium In Wyoming’s Red Desert

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By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily

A global mining business says it has found significant deposits of uranium in Wyoming’s Red Desert.  

GTI Resources discovered a likely source of raw uranium, or yellowcake, through a first-time exploratory drill program called the “Thor” project in the Great Divide Basin, said Bruce Lane, GTI Resources director.

Lane added the geological and political landscapes would appear to encourage development.

“We’re confident we have established there’s a mineralized system here,” Lane told Cowboy State Daily.

Lane hoped to release an official report by mid-April that will detail how much uranium the area might contain. 

Wyoming’s geologic structure, said the director, is ideal for in-situ leach mining – a relatively “clean” process using water and baking soda to pump uranium deposits from drilled holes.  

The next step, said Lane, will be for GTI to “follow this drilling program with another drilling program of higher intensity” to further identify the yellowcake presence and develop an “economic model” around it before tackling the official permitting process.  

The permitting process for uranium production, said Lane, is “onerous – as it should be” to address environmental concerns.  

Lane said this initial discovery of sandstone-embedded uranium in southern Wyoming comes amid the industry’s first optimistic phase in more than a decade.  

“Uranium mining in the States has really collapsed in the last decade, so in the last few years there’s been no mining at all,” said Lane, noting that Kazakhstan flooded the global market nearly two decades ago with cheap uranium which, at about $20 per pound, drove out established producers and stalled Wyoming ventures.  

Lane also bemoaned the 2010 sale of Uranium One assets to Russian nuclear power giant Rosotom – a move that was approved by then-U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton which transferred 20% of U.S. uranium reserves into Russian control.  

“It’s quite incredible to think… somebody decided in the administration that that was a good idea,” said Lane.  

With the transfer, Russia took over much of the global uranium enrichment services for turning raw yellowcake into refined uranium, Lane said, adding that now there is “some enrichment in the U.S.” 

A Trump-era report by the National Nuclear Security Administration stated the U.S. in 2019 did “not have domestic uranium enrichment capability,” prompting the Navy to use national stockpiles for the propulsion of its nuclear-powered vessels.  

Foreign Chaos 

But the tides turned in January, when civil unrest in Kazakhstan prompted Russia-aided communications and travel shutdowns that quelled both civilian protests and uranium production in the small central-Asian country. Kazakhstan had been producing more than 40 percent of the world’s uranium supply.  

Prices surged to $45 per pound in January and $55 on Wednesday evening.  

Consumers, or “utilities,” said Lane, may find it “better for them to seek uranium from a more politically stable place than Kazakhstan.”  

The Russian-Ukraine conflict now waging, Lane added, could further cement “the strategic issues with buying out of the Russian block, and Chinese-block-aligned suppliers.”  

Kazakhstan, Russian, and Uzbekistan accounted for 47% of the total uranium purchased by U.S. civilian operators in 2020, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Canada and Australia together were the second-largest sources for American buyers, providing about 34% of the supply.

America’s export rate was not as voluminous or as lucrative:  

U.S. buyers bought 39.6 million pounds of uranium from foreign sources at an average $33.79 per pound in 2020 – but domestic producers only sold 9.9 million pounds, at an average price of $29.57 per pound, the EIA reported.  

Energy Independence 

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine provoked criticism and calls by Wyoming’s three Congressional delegates for bans and sanctions on Russian products.  

“Now you’ve got Liz Cheney banging the desk and demanding that Russia be sanctioned, and that uranium be sanctioned as well, and oil and whatever else,” said Lane. 

Shifting that pressure to meet the demand for uranium back onto American suppliers, he continued, is a “wakeup call, that the U.S. domestic uranium supplier used to be the world’s leading supplier business – and it’s been decimated, and effectively collapsed.” 

“But I believe there’s a renaissance underway,” he added.  

Clean Power 

Lane referenced an increasing demand for clean energy.  

“Emissions-free electricity can’t all come from windmills and solar power,” he said, due in part to their intermittent nature and “network issues.”  

India, France, South Korea, Japan, and many other jurisdictions are “doubling down” on nuclear power, Lane added.

Uranium mining is not without its environmental risks, he said, as some producers will use harsh chemicals to extract the yellowcake. But Wyoming’s sandstone-hosted deposits, he said, allowed for the cleaner alternative of in-situ extraction.  

Wyoming Hands on Deck 

Australia-based GTI Resources, said Lane, is employing Wyoming workers.  

“We don’t have exploration staff and filed staff employed in the U.S., so we work with partners in the U.S… (and) we absolutely would use and would prefer to use local, Wyoming expertise. I don’t imagine why we would want to bring anyone in from out of state,” he said. “These guys are trustworthy and reliable.”  

Lane also praised the Wyoming Legislature for its exploration-friendly policies.  

“I’ve worked in a number of different jurisdictions across the world, and it’s really good to work with people in your part of the world,” said Lane. BRS Engineering, which is based in Riverton, helped GTI choose exploration targets in Wyoming and in Utah.  

“For the Thor project,” said Doug Beahm, principal engineer for BRS, “we planned and permitted the drilling through the (Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality) Land Quality Division and (Bureau of Land Management).” 

With permits in place, BRS managed drilling, completing 100 exploratory drill holes on the Thor project this winter.  

“We did not get the permit until late November 2021 and had to complete the drilling prior to March 15,” said Beahm, due to seasonal wildlife restrictions pertaining to sage grouse. 

But the project was completed on time.  

“GTI has additional claim groups in the Great Divide Basin of Wyoming and we will be evaluating whether to continue the drilling program at Thor or expand the program to the other claim groups or do both,” Beahm said.  

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Barrasso Says American, Not Russian, Uranium Needed To Power Kemmerer Plant

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

American uranium should be the fuel source for a nuclear power plant proposed near Kemmerer, U.S. Sen. John Barrasso said Thursday

Barrasso told his Senate collegues the United States needs to end its reliance on Russia for certain energy sources, such as uranium.

“Russia is our third-largest supplier of uranium, meeting 16% of U.S. demand. We need to eliminate our dependence on Russian uranium,” Barrasso said Thursday during hearings into the nomination of Kathryn Huff to serve as assistant secretary for Nuclear Energy at the U.S. Department of Energy. “We also need immediate action to develop an American supply of high-assay, low-enriched uranium. This is the fuel needed for advanced nuclear reactors, like TerraPower’s Natrium reactor, which will be built in my home state of Wyoming.”

TerraPower has said it has no choice but to use nuclear fuel rods created in Russia because there are no domestic suppliers of the rods. The company is working to develop a domestic source for the rods.

The Natrium power plant will use fuel rods manufactured with HALEU metallic fluid. This uranium will allow the reactor to operate more efficiently and reduces the volume of waste produced.

Barrasso joined U.S. Sen. Cynthia Lummis and two other senators on Thursday in introducing legislation that would ban the import of Russian uranium, a move that would cut Natrium’s supply of fuel.

Barrasso spokeswoman Gaby Hunt told Cowboy State Daily on Thursday that while American uranium fuel production probably won’t be sufficient to provide the initial fuel load for Natrium, expected to begin operations in 2027 or 2028, Barrasso is working to make sure domestic uranium sources will be available in the future. Hunt said Barrasso is looking at supplementing the domestic supply with fuel produced by the DOE until commercial production is sufficient to meet the demand.

Barrasso and Lummis agreed it makes little sense to help finance Russian aggression in Ukraine with purchases of fuel, including uranium.

“The time is now to permanently remove all Russian energy from the American marketplace,” Barrasso said. “We know Vladimir Putin uses this money to help fund his brutal and unprovoked war in Ukraine. While banning imports of Russian oil, gas and coal is an important step, it cannot be the last. Banning Russian uranium imports will further defund Russia’s war machine, help revive American uranium production, and increase our national security.”

Lummis added that it was “imperative” that the United States cut off all Russian imports, including uranium.

“Every dollar we send to Russia is a dollar used to continue to attack innocent people in Ukraine,” she said. “Wyoming has more than enough uranium to fill this gap, and we can mine it in a more environmentally friendly and safe way.”

U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney told Wyoming reporters on Wednesday that she was also working to introduce similar legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives.

According to the Wyoming Mining Association, Wyoming has around 450 million pounds of uranium in reserves, although the resource varies in price. About one pound of uranium can produce the same amount of power as 20,000 pounds of coal.

WMA spokesman Travis Deti did not return Cowboy State Daily’s request for comment on Thursday.

The Natrium power plant, a “next generation” nuclear plant, is expected to generate 345 megawatts of power.

According to project estimates, approximately 2,000 workers will be needed for plant construction at the project’s peak. Once the plant is operational, approximately 250 people will support day-to-day activities, including plant security.

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Kemmerer Nuclear Power Plant To Use Russian Uranium; Legislators Object

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The company planning to install a nuclear power plant in Kemmerer will use Russian uranium in its operation, but its officials are working to cultivate a domestic source of the element.

But the use of Russian uranium is concerning to some Wyoming legislators, who this week tried to amend a state bill setting up the permitting process for the proposed Natrium power plant to prohibit its use while encouraging the use of Wyoming uranium.

The company TerraPower is working to build a small demonstration nuclear reactor at the site of a coal-fired power plant owned by Rocky Mountain Power. Wyoming’s Legislature, through House Bill 131, is updating the regulations that will allow the plant to operate and allow for the storage of nuclear waste.

Jeff Navin, TerraPower’s director of external affairs, told Cowboy State Daily on Wednesday that the company is in a quandary, as the only facility that can produce commercial quantities of high-assay, low-enriched uranium (HALEU) is owned and operated by Tenex in Russia, which he said was “problematic on a number of levels.”

“Recognizing this gap in the supply chain, last year, TerraPower allocated funds within the Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program proposal … to help create an American competitor to Tenex, and we are working with Congress and the Department of Energy to expedite the development of domestic enrichment capability,” Navin said.

“This investment has helped support the only facility in the United States currently licensed to produce HALEU, although they do not yet have the capability to produce HALEU at commercial levels,” he said.

The Natrium power plant will use fuel rods manufactured with HALEU metallic fluid. This uranium will allow the reactor to operate more efficiently and reduces the volume of waste produced.

In addition to trying to build up American producers of HALEU, TerraPower is investing in an American company to produce the fuel rods, Navin said.

However, Rep. Chuck Gray, R-Casper, told Cowboy State Daily on Wednesday that he was “troubled” by the use of Russian uranium in the reactor. Gray, along with Reps. Karlee Provenza and Trey Sherwood, both D-Laramie, wrote an amendment to House Bill 131 that would have required the plant to use as much Wyoming uranium as possible while prohibiting the use of Russian uranium.

“I’m Wyoming first,” he said. “I’m not for using Russian uranium at this site, and that’s the direction it’s going. It’s wrong.”

Last summer, Gov. Mark Gordon, joined by officials with TerraPower and Rocky Mountain Power, announced the Natrium plant, a “next generation” nuclear plant would be built in Wyoming by 2027 or 2028. The reactor is expected to generate 345 megawatts of power.

The proposed reactor would use technology developed by TerraPower, and would result in a smaller nuclear power plant than has previously been built, along with improved safety measures and a power storage system.

Navin noted that the investment was made with the knowledge that TerraPower could not rely on unstable countries like Russia for advanced reactor fuel, a fact officials recognized even before the Ukraine invasion last week.

“In addition to the strategic and moral imperative to end any reliance on Russian HALEU, creating domestic enrichment capability is the best way to ensure that domestic sources of uranium are used in HALEU production,” Navin said.

“Uranium is a commodity, and HALEU producers will use the lowest cost uranium they can find,” he added. “Shipping uranium halfway around the world is expensive, and for economic and strategic reasons, we shouldn’t expect the Russians to purchase uranium from Wyoming to produce HALEU in Russia.”

He added that TerraPower officials want to see a robust American uranium market driven by free market principles of competition, but that federal support was needed to jumpstart this part of the supply chain.

“The crisis in Ukraine is awakening the world to the need to move beyond Russian sources of energy, and TerraPower does not want Russian HALEU in our reactor,” Navin said.

According to project estimates, approximately 2,000 workers will be needed for plant construction at the project’s peak. Once the plant is operational, approximately 250 people will support day-to-day activities, including plant security.

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Industry Leader: Wyoming Uranium Industry on ‘Its Death Bed’

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Uranium
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By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

A potential addition to President Donald Trump’s budget for the purchase of domestic uranium might not be enough to save Wyoming’s uranium mining operations, an industry leader said.

“The uranium market has been extremely depressed for a number of years,” said John Cash, Ur-Energy’s vice president of regulatory affairs. “So much so that is not profitable to sell into that market at this point.”

After speaking with White House adviser Larry Kudlow, Gov. Mark Gordon recently announced the president is slated to add $150 million to his budget for replenishing the nation’s military supply of uranium.

But Cash said even if the funds were approved, new uranium enrichment facilities would need to be built, which could take up to 10 years — precious time the industry might not have.

“The uranium industry is on its death bed,” said Cash, whose company operates a uranium mine in south-central Wyoming. “We’re already shutting down most everything. We can’t wait any longer.”

Domestic market

Wyoming leads the nation in uranium production with about 665,000 pounds produced in 2018, which was about 78 percent of America’s production, the Wyoming Mining Association (WMA) reported.

Unfortunately, Cash said that production was down to about 200,000 pounds in 2019.

“At one time, the U.S. produced 30 million pounds of uranium a year,” he said.

RELATED: Wyoming radio personality Glenn Woods explores former uranium town Jeffrey City

Humans have used uranium for centuries in products such as paint pigments, but today, most uranium is used to generate electricity at nuclear power plants. 

Militaries use uranium to create high-density, armor-piercing projectiles, armor plating for tanks and to power naval vessels. 

On the civilian side, uranium radioisotopes are used in smoke detectors and ballasts for yachts and airplanes, according to the WMA. 

The U.S. is home to 98 nuclear power reactors and houses the world’s largest fleet of nuclear-powered naval vessels, but Cash said the nation doesn’t produce enough uranium to power even one nuclear reactor for more than a few months.

“America’s nuclear reactors consume about 50 million pounds of uranium each year,” he said. “Each one of those requires about 500,000 pounds of uranium a year to operate.”

Flooding the market

Uranium is most commonly sold as the compound U3O8 and fetches about $25 a pound on the global market, WMA Executive Director Travis Deti said. 

“The problem is a pound costs about $35 to $45 to produce here in Wyoming,” Deti explained. “Countries like Russia, China and Kazakhstan have basically flooded the market with cheap uranium, because they don’t have the same regulations American companies do, and their operations are heavily subsidized by their governments. They’ve effectively driven the U.S. out of the domestic market.”

Further complicating the issue is the fact the uranium potentially purchased for military use by the U.S. if Trump’s budget addition is funded would need to be converted and enriched. 

“It all starts off the same when we mine it and process it into yellowcake, or U3O8,” Cash said. “From there it has to be converted into UF6 uranium hexaflouride. The U.S. has only one conversion facility in Metropolis, Illinois. And that facility shut down in 2017.”

After conversion, the uranium is enriched to increase its concentration of the isotope uranium-235, needed to sustain a chain reaction. 

The natural concentration of uranium-235 in ore is usually less than 1 percent.

For commercial nuclear reactors, the uranium-235 content needs to be about 4.5 percent, for military applications, it needs to be above 90 percent.

“We have no domestic enrichment facilities anymore,” Cash said. “At this point, we have no physical structure (in the U.S.) to enrich uranium for our military.”

One uranium enrichment facility does exist in New Mexico, but it is owned by foreign governments, which are legally prohibited from enriching uranium for U.S. military uses, Cash explained.

“The story is there is effectively no uranium mining in the U.S. — the numbers in 2020 will be near zero — our one conversion plant is shut down and we have no enrichment facilities at all,” he said. “Our ability to supply our military or nuclear power plant fleet domestically is gone.” 

Congressional efforts

In 2018, Ur-Energy and Energy Fuels, another uranium producer, asked the U.S. Commerce Department to investigate the effects of foreign-owned firms’ uranium imports on America’s national security.

In support of the request, U.S. Sen. John Barrasso led congressional efforts to press for the investigation, a spokesman for a Senate committee said in an email.

When the Commerce Department determined the imports did pose a threat to national security, President Trump created the Nuclear Fuel Working Group to look into uranium producers and the nuclear energy industry.

Serving as chairman of the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee, Barrasso was among several Republican senators who sent a letter to Kudlow calling for the Nuclear Fuel Working Group to help America’s uranium producers, EPW Communications Director Mike Danylak wrote.

“Barrasso has been personally engaged with the White House throughout the Nuclear Fuel Working Group’s process to highlight the important role uranium mining plays in Wyoming,” Danylak said. “Maintaining a vibrant American uranium industry is a critical economic issue in Wyoming and a vital national and energy security issue for our entire country.”

With help from Barrasso and the Trump administration, uranium could make a comeback, but Cash said the industry will need time.

“At $150 million a year, that could support about 2.5 million pounds of uranium production annually,” he said. “It’s likely Wyoming mines would get a pretty good percentage of that.”

But with no conversion or enrichment facilities available, the U.S. would need to purchase and store the uranium.

“I think what would happen is the conversion facility would be incentivized to open back up and convert the uranium, so it could be stored,” Cash speculated. “And it would need to be stored until an enrichment facility could be built.”

Without the revenue from annual purchases, Cash said the U.S. uranium industry would collapse before an enrichment facility could be built. 

Deti said the president’s budget addition could revive Wyoming’s uranium operations, but nothing is set in stone.

“We haven’t passed a budget in this country for years,” he explained. “Where the rubber hits the road is whether Congress authorizes and appropriates the money. It’s a good step in the right direction, but we’ll have to see if Congress follows up.”

Mark Gordon: U.S. to Buy Wyoming Uranium

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By Bill Sniffin

Gov. Mark Gordon announced Friday morning in Lander that President Donald Trump placed $150 million in his upcoming budget for the purchase of domestic uranium to replenish military supplies. 

Gordon said he spoke with Larry Kudlow, an economic advisor of the president, who said that working with U.S. Sen. John Barrasso, the purchase was included in the budget. 

“I’m excited,” Gordon said. “Yesterday, I had the opportunity to speak with Larry Kudlow. He let us know that in the president’s budget there will be $150 million item to buy uranium for the strategic weapon reserve.”

“This is a real boon for our uranium industry and for the miners,” he said.

Wyoming is the largest producer of uranium of any state.

Uranium prices have plummeted in recent years because of foreign countries dumping uranium at below market rates. 

“We had asked if he would consider a tariff on uranium that is coming from Kazakhstan,” Gordon said. “For those of you who don’t know, Kazakhstan mines with sulfuric acid, no reclamation, and no real standards for the workforce. They have environmental disaster after environmental disaster but it keeps their prices low.”

Gov. Gordon was in Lander and Fremont County meeting with the Shoshone and Arapaho Tribes and talking to the Lander and Riverton Rotary Clubs. 

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