Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross announced Wednesday that his agency would investigate whether uranium imports to the United States pose any threat to national security.
Reviewing whether uranium imports pose such a threat could open the door to the administration imposing new tariffs amid months of backlash over President Trump‘s trade policies.
In a statement citing idle U.S. mines and massive layoffs in the U.S. uranium mining sector over the past two years, Ross announced that he had accepted a petition from two U.S. energy companies to launch the probe.
“Our production of uranium necessary for military and electric power has dropped from 49 percent of our consumption to five percent,” Ross said. “The Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security will conduct a thorough, fair, and transparent review to determine whether uranium imports threaten to impair national security.”
Ross noted that three U.S. mining companies have idled in recent years and that two companies representing half of America’s uranium mining efforts had laid off more than 50 percent of their workforce over the last two years.
“Uranium is a required component of our nuclear arsenal and is used to power the Navy’s nuclear fleet of submarines and aircraft carriers,” he said. “U.S. uranium production had been 49 percent of U.S. requirements in 1987. Today, U.S. uranium production has dropped to only five percent of U.S. requirements.”
The U.S. has faced sharp criticism from close allies and others in recent months over a series of tariffs that the Trump administration has imposed on various imports, including a 25 percent tariff on imported steel and 10 percent tariff on imported aluminum.
The Trump administration has also been involved in trade action targeting China in recent weeks, drawing retaliatory measures from China’s government and causing fears of a global trade war among economists.
The administration cited national security concerns in imposing the steel tariffs last month. The Commerce Department similarly launched a review centered on a trade law known as Section 232, which allows tariffs to be placed on imports in the name of national security, before imposing those tariffs.