(Corrects name of panel chaired by Sen. Barrasso in first paragraph)
By Valerie Volcovici
WASHINGTON, Jan 18 (Reuters) - The chair of the Senate's Environment and Public Works Committee said on Thursday he wants the Commerce Department to investigate the impacts of uranium imports from Russia and central Asia on national security, backing a request from two U.S. uranium mining firms who filed the petition.
"America’s ability to produce uranium is crucial to power our economy and keep our nation safe," said Republican Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming, chair of the panel. "The Trump administration needs to expedite this investigation and take action to preserve this vital industry."
On Tuesday, Energy Fuels and Ur-Energy filed what is called a 232 petition to the Commerce Department, asking its secretary Wilbur Ross to investigate the effects of uranium imports on national security and for President Donald Trump to use his authority to "adjust imports to ensure the long-term viability of the U.S. uranium mining industry."
The petition comes over a month after the Interior Department reduced the size of two Utah national monuments - Grand Staircase Escalante and Bears Ears - the latter of which has uranium deposits.
Energy Fuels submitted a comment to the Interior Department during its months-long review of national monuments, saying that the Bears Ears designated borders had abutted its existing uranium mines and processing facilities, and that it also contained "many other known uranium and vanadium deposits."
In their petition, the companies pointed out that imports of uranium from state-owned enterprises in Russia, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan account for 40 percent of U.S. demand, while domestic production fulfills less than 5 percent.
The Commerce Department declined to comment on the petition but if it does launch an investigation, the secretary has 270 days to prepare a report to the president and the president would then have 90 days to act on the secretary’s recommendations.
Wyoming, Barrasso's home state, is responsible for half of U.S. uranium production. (Reporting By Valerie Volcovici; Editing by Susan Thomas)