Four leading House Republicans, citing national security concerns, are urging Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner to block the sale of a Wyoming-based uranium mine to an arm of the Russian government’s main nuclear agency.
The lawmakers are raising alarm over the proposed sale of a Powder River Basin, Wyoming-based uranium processing facility operated by Uranium One USA, a Canadian-based company, to Atomredmetzoloto, a subsidiary of the Russian government agency Rosatom, according to a letter obtained Tuesday by The Washington Times.
The sale was first announced on Aug. 31, and the lawmakers claim that it could give Moscow control of up to 20 percent of the U.S. national uranium extraction capability and a controlling interest in one of the country’s largest uranium mining sites.
The GOP opposition to the business deal is the first major political clash over foreign investment in a sensitive U.S. industry since the fight over Dubai Ports World in 2006. In that clash, bipartisan outrage on Capitol Hill erupted when the George W. Bush administration tentatively approved the purchase of contracts to manage six major U.S. seaports by the company based in the United Arab Emirates.
This time, the proposed sale presents a test for President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton of their hopes to “reset” relations with Russia on a wide range of fronts.
On one key issue, Rose Gottemoeller, the State Department’s assistant secretary in charge of arms control issues, confirmed in remarks to reporters in New York on Monday that the administration is pushing for ratification of a major new strategic arms pact with Russia in the Senate lame-duck session expected after the midterm vote.
Some Republicans still have questions about the administration’s approach in the deal struck earlier this year, but Obama officials are pressing for a vote “as soon as possible,” Ms. Gottemoeller said.
The letter questioning the uranium deal was sent Tuesday by four Republicans: Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, Spencer Bachus of Alabama, Peter T. King of New York and Howard P. “Buck” McKeon of California. Those members are, respectively, the ranking minority members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, the House Financial Services Committee, the House Homeland Security Committee, and the House Armed Services Committee.
If Republicans win control of the House in the Nov. 2 midterm elections, the four members are in line to be chairmen of committees that would have potential oversight of the sale.
A fact sheet on the website of Uranium One says the company intends to complete the transaction by the end of the year. The Russian concern already owns a 23.1 percent share of Uranium One’s common stock and is seeking a controlling 51 percent share in the subsidiary.
The fact sheet notes that the sale still must be approved by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States — the federal interagency body that looks at the national security implications of foreign investments. It played a central role in the Dubai Ports World controversy.
A spokeswoman for the Treasury Department did not provide comment by press time. A spokesman for Uranium One also did not return requests for comment by press time.
The lawmakers said in their letter that Rosatom, the Russian government nuclear agency, has “shown little if any inclination to effectively address the widespread and continuing corruption within Russia, particularly its energy sector.”
They also express concern that Rosatom in the past has been involved in energy deals with Iran, including design work and the training of Iranian scientists for the Bushehr nuclear power plant that went online in August.
Rosatom also has worked closely with Burmese scientists over U.S. objections.
Uranium One USA has dismissed fears that the deal would compromise U.S. security goals or indirectly aid the nuclear programs of regimes hostile to the United States.
Donna Wichers, a senior vice president of Uranium One USA, told the Billings Gazette last month, “I have confirmed with our management that none of the uranium produced in the U.S. will be used by Rosatom to fuel the Iran reactor.”
The lawmakers said the deal still raises serious questions.
They wrote: “Although Uranium One USA officials are reportedly skeptical that the transaction would result in the transfer of any mined uranium to Iran, we remain concerned that Iran could receive uranium supplies through direct or secondary proliferation.”
Henry Sokolski, executive director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center, said the sale to Rosatom could be Russia’s opening move to get into the U.S. nuclear power market.
“Why would Russia, which already has plenty of uranium of its own, want to buy more?” Mr. Sokolski asked. “There have been rumors that Rosatom wants to build a large uranium enrichment plant to sell nuclear fuel for U.S. civil power reactors. If so, the company is almost certain to ask for U.S. federal loan guarantees, which the French and Dutch have already done.”
Mr. Sokolski added, “In this case, you have got to believe that some of the security concerns raised in the letter, and others as well, could prompt [Congress to impose] conditions for approving such a loan.”