Uranium deal with Russians shows need for mining reform, activists say

Mining reform groups over the weekend reacted sharply to Wednesday’s decision by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (pdf) to allow the transfer of two uranium mining licenses in Wyoming to Atomoredzoloto (ARMZ), a firm controlled by the Russian state nuclear agency.

Several environmental policy groups, including the Western Mining Action Project in Colorado, have told The Colorado Independent that foreign companies are increasingly investing in mining operations on public lands in the United States because of a lack of royalties for hard-rock mining.

Jane Danowitz, U.S. public lands program director for Pew Environment Group, again calling for reform of the antiquated 1872 Mining Law, which was passed during the Ulysses S. Grant administration to spur development of the West.

“The roots of the problem reach back to the 1872 mining law, which allows any claimholder, domestic or foreign, to mine on the majority of America’s public lands – and to take billions of dollars in minerals for free,” Danowitz said.

“With national security and the federal deficit front and center, this is the time for Congress and the Obama administration to take a hard look at how Americans are literally giving away their valuable resources (pdf), and at where those resources are going.”

Wyoming lawmakers were joined by other Republicans in condemning the takeover of Canadian-owned Uranium One by ARMZ, citing national security concerns. Russia’s state nuclear agency, Rosatom, provided the uranium for Iran’s first nuclear power plant.

But the NRC determined “neither Uranium One nor ARMZ holds an NRC export license, so no uranium produced at either facility may be exported.”

Still, critics are concerned about the sheer number of uranium mining claims held by Uranium One – 10,000 overall in the United States and 800 in Colorado alone. Last month a Uranium One official based in Denver told the Colorado Independent (TCI) that the company is divesting itself of local holdings because of the state’s regulatory climate.

Colorado Sen. Mark Udall told TCI a hard look needs to be taken at foreign ownership of uranium mining interests and the current lack of a royalty structure for uranium mining.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this post inaccurately portrayed the Pew Environment Group as having position on the sale of Uranium One to ARMZ. It does not.

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