WASHINGTON (CN) — Asking Congress for $1.5 billion to revive the U.S. uranium mining industry over the next decade, the Trump administration has asserted that a national stockpile it could give the U.S. more security in the global energy economy.
“The Budget establishes a Uranium Reserve for the United States to provide additional assurances of availability of uranium in the event of a market disruption,” Trump asserted earlier this week in his 2021 budget request.
America is already the world’s largest producer of oil and natural gas and the second-highest producer of wind and solar energy, but demand for U.S. nuclear fuel decreased drastically after a 2011 earthquake in Japan caused the second worst nuclear accident in history.
Critics say the administration’s new budget request is a thinly veiled attempt to prop up a select few U.S. uranium companies that have seen their business suffer.
According to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the total production of uranium concentrate in the United States has decreased by 96%, from close to 5 million pounds per year in 2014 to just over 100,000 pounds in 2019.
“The nuclear share of generation, which averaged slightly more than 20% in 2019 will be slightly lower than 20% by 2021, consistent with upcoming reactor retirements,” the U.S. Energy Administration predicted Thursday in its short-term energy outlook report, while noting that renewable energy sources like wind and solar will continue to rise.
Trump’s latest budget request also proposes a 26% cut to the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget.
Spencer Abraham, chairman of the Uranium Energy Corp. who also served as the secretary of energy under George W. Bush, praised the budget request Thursday.
“The establishment of a Uranium Reserve will allow domestic uranium companies to restart some operations and begin to rebuild domestic uranium mining capability,” he said in a statement. “We hope Congress will support the Administration’s proposal and funding request.”
Others, however, were less supportive.
Katie Tubb, a senior energy policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation, which typically leans conservative told AP reporters Thursday: “It’s not the responsibility of the taxpayer to bail out an industry, whether that’s uranium, solar, coal, what have you.”
Supporting nuclear power over more renewable energy sources is also a controversial move in the wake of a Tuesday report from light International Energy Agency that touts the U.S. as leading the global market in decreasing carbon dioxide emissions.
Steven Cohen, the former executive director of Columbia University’s Earth Institute told the Verge Thursday: “I personally do not see nuclear power as a way around the production of greenhouse gas emissions.”
Trump has signed two bills since he took office in 2016 that made it easier to build and get permits for advanced nuclear reactors. Last year, his 2020 budget request to increase funding for nuclear energy by almost $700 million passed with bipartisan support in Congress.