- The Washington Times - Monday, March 14, 2022

A top Senate Republican will seek to ban imports of a Russian energy source that has so far dodged sanctions from the White House and Capitol Hill: uranium.

Sen. John Barrasso plans to push for a standalone measure that would halt U.S. imports of Russian uranium, the Wyoming Republican’s office told The Washington Times.

The U.S. is a major importer of uranium, which is used by nuclear power plants to produce electricity without directly emitting greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. 

A ban would represent a significant shift that would further isolate the U.S. from Russian energy. Nearly half of the uranium the U.S. imported in 2020 came from Russia and two of its allies: Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Facing bipartisan pressure from Congress, President Biden last week was forced to take executive action and impose a Russian energy ban targeting coal, liquified natural gas and oil imports over the country’s invasion of Ukraine. 

Congress is seeking to codify Mr. Biden’s executive action into law, with the House passing a similar Russian energy ban last week.

But uranium was neither included in Mr. Biden’s executive order nor Congress’ legislation amid lobbying from industry groups and concerns it could also raise electricity costs, according to recent reports. The U.S. has considered imposing sanctions on Rosatom Corp., a Russia state-owned atomic energy company, Bloomberg reported last week.

“Every dollar spent on Russian energy is helping fund [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s unprovoked, brutal war in Ukraine,” Mr. Barrasso, ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said in a statement. “A ban on Russian uranium would spur domestic production, increase our national security and further defund Putin’s war machine.”

Reducing America’s reliance on foreign uranium imports has been a priority for years for Mr. Barrasso, whose state of Wyoming is one of the country’s top uranium producers. 

Another one of those states is New Mexico, represented by Democratic Sen. Martin Heinrich. The bipartisan duo was successful in getting legislation signed into law in 2020 to establish a national strategic uranium reserve, curb the amount of uranium purchased from Russia and promote domestic uranium production.  

While some conservation groups, such as the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), say they would support a ban on uranium imports from countries like Russia, there are concerns about the environmental impact and including appropriate regulations to accompany any ban.

“Banning Russian uranium imports is the right thing to do,” said Geoffrey Fettus, director of the nuclear program at the NRDC. “But this action must be accompanied by environmental standards that ensure U.S. uranium mining projects don’t foul precious underground aquifers and water supplies or sicken and kill wildlife.”

• Ramsey Touchberry can be reached at rtouchberry@washingtontimes.com.

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