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Nuclear wasteland: The explosive boom and long, painful bust of American uranium mining via CNBC

  • Government incentives and trade barriers once sparked a gold rush for uranium, leading to a boom in mining for the nuclear fuel
  • However, U.S. uranium miners have endured decades of distress as foreign competition entered the market and demand faltered as nuclear energy fell out of favor.
  • Uranium miners are now asking the Trump administration to erect trade barriers torn down more than 30 years ago to preserve the industry.

[…]

Now, 60 years later, American uranium miners want the government to use similar tools to prevent the collapse of the industry — and the few remaining U.S. companies still producing uranium for the nation’s fleet of nuclear power plants.

The numbers tell the tale. At the height of activity in 1980, U.S. companies produced nearly 44 million tons of uranium concentrate and provided most of the supplies purchased by nuclear power plants. Last year, American miners produced 2.4 million tons and supplied just 7 percent of the uranium bought by domestic plants.

The industry, which once supported nearly 22,000 jobs, now employs just a few hundred people each year.

The story of uranium mining in the United States is little known, but it’s intertwined with some of the defining events of the 20th century: the Cold War, the dawn of nuclear energy, the fall of the Soviet Union and the rise of globalization.

[…]

By the 1960s, the program had packed U.S. storehouses so full of uranium stockpiles that the government stopped paying the incentives. However, it left in place rules barring the use of foreign uranium until 1975, when it began to allow a growing percentage of overseas supplies into the market.

That opened the door to high-quality, low-cost supplies from Canada and Australia. By 1987, the United States was importing nearly 15 million pounds of uranium, and domestic output fell by about a third to roughly 13 million pounds.

[…]

The decade also saw the government privatize the Department of Energy’s uranium enrichment operations, in the process transferring 45,000 metric tons of uranium to the new company. That flooded the market, according to Goranson.

By the early 2000s, U.S. uranium production was at its lowest in a half century.

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