The Need for America to Improve Its Energy Independence
By Wes O’Donnell
Managing Editor, In Military and InCyberDefense
Reeling from the 1973 oil crisis that caused massive supply disruptions, the United States began its long march to energy independence. The bipartisan reasoning behind energy independence argued that our oil supply — and by extension, our economy — should not be tied to countries that are politically unstable (Venezuela) or countries that have questionable human rights practices (Saudi Arabia).
However, there is another source of energy that the U.S. needs for both power generation and national defense. And the domestic production of this source, uranium, is woefully inadequate.
Most of US Uranium Comes from Other Countries
Today, the U.S. domestic mining industry produces only two percent of its uranium needs. The rest is imported from foreign sources, with a full 40 percent coming from the Russian Federation and former Warsaw Pact nations.
In the United States military, all submarines and supercarriers built since 1975 are nuclear-powered and require uranium to function. In addition, the U.S. maintains 98 operating nuclear reactors to supply electricity for millions of Americans; these reactors supply up to 20 percent of U.S. electricity.
More troubling, Russian lawmakers have given President Vladimir Putin the ability to suspend uranium exports to the United States for any reason or no reason at all. In April of 2018, Russian lawmakers drafted a bill to suspend cooperation with U.S. companies in the nuclear, missile and aircraft-building industries in response to U.S. sanctions.
Does the US Have Enough Uranium Ore to Be Independent?
According to a report by the U.S. Geological Survey, the United States has enough uranium to fulfill our needs for 300 years. Supply is not the issue.
The problem is domestic uranium mining’s toxic legacy. The regulatory environment for mining in the United States lacks uniformity, which has resulted in serious public health and safety concerns in the American West, a place where most uranium mining is concentrated.
For instance, there are approximately 4,000 abandoned uranium mines in Western states. Many of these mines are located on land owned by the Navajo Nation.
A report by The Conversation found that in a 2015 study, 85 percent of Navajo homes are contaminated with uranium. The study also determined that tribe members living near uranium mines have more uranium in their bones than 95 percent of the U.S. population.
What’s the Solution to Improving Our Energy Independence?
Government regulations exist for a reason: to protect the health and safety of American citizens. With increased regulatory oversight and a commitment to protecting its citizens, the United States should ramp up domestic uranium production.
At a minimum, the U.S. should produce enough uranium to supply our national defense needs. This tactic could satisfy both environmentalists and those concerned with national security.
America is a land with vast natural resources, and we have been able to successfully reverse years of dependence on foreign oil with smart regulations and technological innovations. With an increasingly emboldened Russia that invades its neighbors and performs cyberattacks at will, our current uranium supply chain should concern every American.
It’s not too late to become fully energy independent.