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Daniela: Concerns surrounding uranium mining near the Grand Canyon have garnered national media attention. Federal officials are presently deliberating on mining laws that could affect operations around the national park. So how would this affect producers operating around the region and the supply of resources? Joining us today is Mark Chalmers. He's the CEO of Energy Fuels, uh, the company behind the petition asking that the U.S. Government buy its uranium exclusively from domestic sources instead of quota "guaranteeing US companies 25% of the market." Mark, welcome to the show. Happy to have you on here.

Mark: Glad to be on the show, Daniella.

Daniela: Well, first and foremost, tell us more. You know, I mentioned the bit at the start here, but tell us more about your petition here. What are you looking to accomplish?

Mark: Okay, well our petition is a section two, three, two. And the reason we filed it is that a, under the trade act of 1962, if there is a, um, a commodity or material that could have national security implications, the president, I'd say says executive authority to, to, to step in on trade in that regard. So we filed a petition because United States consumes one third of the world's uranium, and we're currently producing less than 1% of our requirements.

Daniela: Wow. That's right. So, so you're, you want to stop this? You want to, you want to say, Hey, hold on a second. We need to be producing more in the U.S. here.

Mark: Absolutely. We, we think that, uh, to have a 99% dependency on imports, uh, for the largest consumer of uranium in the world, uh, it just doesn't make any sense and it is truly a national security issue.

Daniela: Okay. So let's talk about why this story in particular has garnered really national attention here. Uh, mainly because, uh, conservation advocates are up in arms about how this would pollute the national park. So let's, let's hear your take on this.

Mark: That's untrue, but, um, uh, but, but anyways, it's a, it's a national security issue. Um, you know, we're looking at, uh, you know, wanting to, to reestablish uranium mining activities across mainly the western United States. Um, and, uh, certainly we're not planning to do anything inside a national park.

Daniela: Okay. So you want to clarify that because that's really the, the issue with the activists here. They're saying, hold on a, we don't want, you know, uranium being mined around, uh, you know, a little national landmark here.

Mark: Yeah. Well look, we, we do have one mine called the canyon mine, which is about 10 miles south of the Grand Canyon, uh, that we would plan to mine, but it is not in the park. It is on public lands. Um, it is, uh, it is a project that has had numerous federal court challenges. Um, it is, um, uh, uh, been successful. Those challenges, uh, it has been a, they tried to put it up to the Supreme Court twice, so it's probably the most scrutinized project in the mining business in the entire United States.

Daniela: So you feel comfortable and confident that humans and animals, uh, will not be affected by exposure, by uranium mining, radiation. Absolutely.

Mark: It would never have been able to, to clear those federal court challenge if it was going to harm the environment in any way.

Daniela: Okay. Let's also talk about uranium prices. You know, how much of the petition is fueled by the fact that you reading and prices that you know, as you know, have, have fallen substantially in recent years?

Mark: Yeah, we'll look at the, the price of uranium is too low to support a mining of newly mined uranium, particularly by western producers. So, uh, the current spot price around $25 per pound. And, uh, the industry at least in the Western world needs a 55 to $60 a pound or greater, uh, to actually, um, mine uranium with, with any type of margin.

Daniela: Okay. And how confident are you that you're going to, um, move ahead here and convinced the government to, uh, to move forward?

Mark: Well, we filed the petition. The petition, uh, was evaluated by the Department of Commerce. They went through a very detailed, a 270 day process where they send out a number of questionnaires. They visited a number of the facilities in the United States. Uh, we think that we've made a very strong argument that this is a national defense, um, um, issue. Uh, and as I said from the beginning, you know, we consume one third of the world's uranium producing less than 1%. That should shock people because a big chunk of that, uh, uh, material that's been imported in the United States is coming from Russia and his allies. Uh, and, um, China.

Daniela: Why, why do you think that that's the case? Why do you think the U.S. hasn't acted on that sooner?

Mark: Well, um, first, uh, petition had to be filed. There was a petition in section 232 filed in 1989. Uh, but that was a period of time when, uh, the uranium industry was a lot more robust than it is today. There were more facilities, more people. Uh, and at that time, um, there was less dependence on a particularly uranium from our, um, you know, the, our foes basically.

Daniela: And what has the reaction been from the, the rest of the uranium producers in the U.S. Or have they reached out to you? Are they supportive? Have you heard from them?

Mark: Well the, um, there's just two of us that were the co-petitioners, uh, uh, Energy Fuels and Ur-Energy, the, the two of us filed the petition. Um, yes, I think that other producers in the United States are supportive of our petition. The reason that there's just two of us is we felt that it was, we had to focus on, uh, companies that were pure plays for uranium production in the United States. And so we went in together and we thought that we could move quicker and faster and more effectively, um, by just having to petitioners rather than several.

Daniela: Is the concern that saved the petition doesn't move forward. Um, is your concern that uranium producers, the existing ones in the US would have to be forced to close their doors?

Mark: Well, it would certainly be a very challenging, I mean, we've been in challenged conditions for, uh, since Fukushima in 2011, uh, it's been very difficult for all of us to survive. Uh, so we do need support. Uh, the industry is very challenged. Uh, we're producing at levels low, such low levels that have not been seen since the 1940s. And again, I go back to what I said before, we're the largest consumer in the world. So, um, I don't think that the United States of America and the people, the citizens of the United States of America are, are ready to throw the car keys at, uh, mainly, uh, the former Soviet Union and China.

Daniela: So Mark, what's, what's next for you in the company? Are you really just awaiting to see which direction does this petition will take and ...

Mark: Yeah, well we, uh, we are waiting that, um, and then the president supposed to make some sort of decision by the 13th of July. Um, but our company is a little different than, than, than most others because we also produced the [inaudible]. We also do some recycling of low level radioactive material into a nuclear fuel. And we also have the potential to do some cleanup work of abandoned uranium mines. So, so we're more diversified than our peers. Uh, but yes, we are waiting for, um, to see what the response is from the president on the petition.

Daniela: Right? Because if we just play out the scenario, obviously the petition goes through, then you'll go through with a, you know, with, with expecting to produce from there. But if it doesn't, what do you do?

Mark: Well, if it doesn't, um, you know, we'll have to regroup. And as I said, we've got other ways to generate revenue. Uh, as a company, uh, we do believe the fundamentals of the uranium market are improving daily. So we think the price uranium is gonna recover up into that. Uh, those, those prices that I talked about, that 55 to 60, because that is the true value of a pound of uranium or world production costs a fair, uh, production costs. So, um, but, but, you know, it'll, it'll be a struggle if we get zero relief. Uh, but as I said, our company has ways of generating revenue that others do not.

Daniela: All right. Mark Chalmers, CEO of Energy Fuels. I appreciate you taking the time to speak with us and giving us this exclusive interview. Thank you for joining us.

While concerns surrounding uranium mining near the Grand Canyon have garnered national media attention, one producer is petitioning the government saying it is essential to avoid a national security threat.

Mark Chalmers, chief executive officer of Energy Fuels Resources, is looking to produce uranium on this contested land near the Grand Canyon. The company is petitioning the U.S. government that it buy its uranium exclusively from domestic sources, and set a quote guaranteeing U.S. companies 25% of the market.

U.S. Federal officials are presently deliberating on mining laws that could affect operations around the national park.

"Our petition is section 232. We filed it under the Trade Act of 1962, which says if there is a commodity or material that could have national security implications, the president of the United States has executive authority to step in on trade in that regard," Chalmers said in an exclusive interview with Kitco News.

"We consume one third of the world's uranium, producing less than 1% -- that should shock people. Because a big chunk of that material that's being imported to the United States is coming from Russia, its allies, and China.

We think to have a 99% dependency on imports for the largest consumer of uranium in the world just doesn't make any sense and is truly a national security issue," Chalmers said.

But conservation advocates are up-in-arms over how this could potentially destroy the Grand Canyon's National Park. "Uranium mining in the Grand Canyon region is an unnecessary threat to our tourism-based economies and the people who depend on the Grand Canyon," Amber Reimondo with the Grand Canyon Trust recently told a House Subcommittee.

"We're looking at wanting to re-establish uranium mining activities across mainly the western United States. And certainly we're not planning to do anything inside a National Park," Chalmers said.

Uranium prices have been depressed for a number of years and currently sit around the spot price of $25 dollars per pound.

"The industry needs $55 a pound or greater to actually mine uranium with any type of margin," Chalmers said.

Should the petition not move forward, Chalmers said it could become a potential killer of the United States' uranium industry.

"Since Fukushima in 2011, it's been very difficult for all of us to survive. So we do need support. The industry is challenged. We're producing at such low levels that have not been seen since the 1940s. [W]e're the largest consumer in the world. So I don't think that the United States of America and the people are ready to throw the car keys at mainly the former Soviet Union and China," Chalmers said.

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This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held TK positions in the stocks mentioned.