A number of Republican senators will unveil legislation Thursday to ban imports of Russian uranium, a move that would further constrict the flow of U.S. dollars into Moscow’s war chest by adding yet another energy source to the list of those embargoed by America over the war against Ukraine.
President Biden has halted all imports of Russian coal, oil and natural gas, and Congress is taking steps to codify his executive action into law. But among the energy sources that have so far escaped sanctions is uranium, which nuclear power plants use to generate electricity.
“While banning imports of Russian oil, gas and coal is an important step, it cannot be the last,” Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming, the ranking Republican of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and the bill’s lead author, said in a statement.
“Banning Russian uranium imports will further defund Russia’s war machine, help revive American uranium production, and increase our national security,” he said.
Russia is a major uranium exporter. Nearly half of the uranium the U.S. imported in 2020 came from Russia and two allied former Soviet republics, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
Whether Democratic lawmakers or Mr. Biden will back such a ban remains to be seen. Barring Russian oil further exacerbated prices at the pump, but the move received bipartisan support nonetheless.
Recent reports have suggested the U.S. is considering sanctions against at least one Russia state-owned atomic energy company, Rosatom Corp., but has been concerned about causing electricity prices to spike.
Several Ukrainian non-governmental organizations on Thursday called for a U.S. ban on Russian uranium in a joint letter to Mr. Biden, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm and Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Christopher Hanson. They noted that Russia provided the U.S. with about 16% of its total uranium in 2020.
“It is crystal clear that Russia is using its nuclear company as one of the tools in the ongoing war,” the organizations wrote.
Mr. Barrasso, who hails from one of the top uranium-producing states in the country, has focused on weaning the U.S. off its reliance on foreign uranium for years. The war in Ukraine has shown Americans that “the time is now,” he said.
In 2020, former President Trump signed into law a measure by Mr. Barrasso and Sen. Martin Heinrich, New Mexico Democrat, to establish a national uranium reserve, limit the amount of imported Russian uranium, and increase domestic production.
Energy and conservation groups alike have offered support for a Russian uranium ban, though the latter has advocated for regulations to prevent environmental damage. While a clean source of energy with respect to the greenhouse gases blamed for climate change, the mining and procurement process for uranium creates radioactive waste that requires proper disposal.
Mr. Barrasso’s ban is co-sponsored by Republican Sens. Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming, Roger Marshall of Kansas and Kevin Cramer of North Dakota.
“This is a country that has repeatedly shown a willingness to weaponize their energy exports for geopolitical advantage and have used those profits to finance their aggressive and unprovoked war against the sovereign nation of Ukraine,” Mr. Marshall said. “Enough is enough.”