Foreign infiltration of U.S. uranium industry?

Foreign infiltration of U.S. uranium industry?

Uranium One, Inc. announced that its Executive Vice-President for Marketing, Scott Melbye, had been elected President of Uranium Producers of America in a February 12, 2013 release from its Toronto, Ontario, Canada headquarters. With its election of Melbye, the Uranium Producers of America (UPA) chose an executive from a uranium company owned and controlled by the Russian Federation’s Atomic Ministry, ROSATOM, to advance UPA’s founding principle “to promote the viability of the domestic uranium industry.” 

In its announcement of Melbye’s election, Uranium One describe itself as “one of the world’s largest publicly traded uranium producers with a globally diversified portfolio of assets located in Kazakhstan, the United States, Australia and Tanzania.”

UPA’s election of Uranium One’s Melbye came just weeks after Russian state corporation ROSATOM’s announced its intention to increase its majority ownership of Canada-based Uranium One from 51.4% to 100%.  Uranium One confirmed that the ownership increase had been approved by its shareholders – a predictable action with the Russian state corporation already owning the majority of shares – on March 7, 2013. Along with the action to take 100% ownership of Uranium One, ROSATOM uranium mining subsidiary ARMZ announced that it will be converted to a privately held corporation, quickly ending Uranium One’s professed status as “one of the world’s largest publicly traded uranium producers” as it stated in February.

While the UPA’s election of Melbye as President was picked up by a few newspapers and newsletters across the country, no New Mexico media outlet found the UPA action newsworthy, though the UPA is based in Santa Fe. The UPA website listed its address as 141 East Palace Avenue, the same address as the Comeau Maldegen, Templeman & Indall law firm, counsel for many of the companies proposing to re-start uranium mining in New Mexico that members of the UPA.

UPA’s election of a Russian-owned uranium company executive as its President provides a useful context for Melbye statement that, “the UPA is eager to take on a number of challenges and opportunities to promote the viability of the domestic uranium and conversion industries in 2013. The industry is encouraged by a number of new projects advancing towards production, yet still faces hurdles in the regulatory arena and in the market with the on-going disposition of government inventories” in Uranium One’s announcement his election.

A review of the status of the U.S. uranium industry by the Department of Energy Information Administration shows that the current uranium industry has vastly more operating production capacity for more than three times the amount of uranium the country produced in 2012. The country produced just over 2,050 tons of uranium oxide, the yellow powder called yellowcake”, but has 5,400 tons per year of licensed yellowcake production at operating uranium in-situ mines and another 1,400 tons per year of licensed production capacity at an operating uranium mill. The US uranium industry production at only 30% of licensed and installed capacity means there a lot more that three times the production capacity in the US than can be sold. And that estimate of excess uranium production capacity in the US doesn’t include another 1,000 tons per year of in-situ production capacity and 1,000 – 1,500 tons of uranium mill capacity on stand-by status.

The severe excess capacity situation at US operating uranium mines hasn’t prevented the development of proposals for new ventures very much, according to DOE data. Licensed and under construction or partially licensed uranium production capacity at the end of 2012 totaled 5,250 tons per year of in situ uranium production capacity and 500 tons per day of conventional uranium mill production capacity, in addition to the 8800 tons per year of operating capacity and more than 2000 tons per year of production capacity on stand-by.

Uranium One as small but significant fraction of the US uranium sector. It controls 650 tons per year of the current licensed in situ uranium capacity of 5400 tons per year in situ uranium capacity at its Willow Creek Project in Wyoming, and 250 tons of the 5,250 tons of partially or fully licensed but not operating capacity at this Moore Ranch project also in Wyoming. Uranium One also controls 1,000 of the 15,000 tons per day of developing but yet to file applications uranium production capacity identified by DOE at its Jab and Antelope project in Wyoming. Among the stand-by status facilities, Uranium One controls about 500 tons per day of the US’s conventional uranium mill capacity at Shootaring Canyon mill in Southern Utah.

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This piece was written by:

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Paul Robinson

Paul Robinson is Research Director at Southwest Research and Information Center in Albuquerque, NM, a scientific and educational organization working to promote the health of people and communities, protect natural resources, ensure citizen participation, and secure environmental and social justice now and for future generations. Paul earned his Masters in Community and Regional Planning from University of New Mexico where he taught environmental assessment, environmental policy and “Sacred Site and Environmental Protection on Native American Land classes” 1983 - 2004. Paul has investigated groundwater contamination and radiation releases from Sandia National Laboratories NM since 1991

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