CASPER, Wyo. — A Russian state-owned uranium company wants to fully buy out Uranium One Inc., a firm with uranium projects in Wyoming, although company executives insist no uranium from the state will go to Russia.
JSC Atomredmetzoloto, or ARMZ, already owns a controlling interest in Toronto-based Uranium One. Under the deal announced Monday, ARMZ will buy out the remaining shareholders for $1.32 billion and take the publicly traded company private.
No uranium from the state will go to Russia, Uranium One officials assured Wyoming's congressional delegation on Tuesday, according to a representative of Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo.
ARMZ caused a stir when it purchased a controlling interest in Uranium One in 2010, sparking an exchange of letters between Barrasso and the then-head of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
"Uranium One confirmed today that it has no plans to export Wyoming uranium to Russia, or any other country that may not share U.S. interests," Barrasso said on Tuesday, noting the Nuclear Regulatory Commission must approve any export of U.S. uranium. "I will continue to exercise oversight of the NRC permit process and oppose uranium exports to any country whose interests may conflict with our own.”
The agreement would lock up Uranium One's uranium reserves for ARMZ, a subsidiary of Russia's state-owned Rosatom Nuclear Energy State Corp. The agreement must still gain shareholder approval.
“Despite the uranium industry’s currently challenging outlook, ARMZ will continue with its strategy of developing Uranium One into the leading global uranium producer, which was the basis of our original investment in the company,” said Vadim Jivov, ARMZ board chairman, in a news release.
Uranium One's main operations -- those most highly prized by Russia -- are in Kazakhstan. The company also has projects in Wyoming, Australia and Tanzania.
Uranium One's resources in Wyoming include the Christensen Ranch well site and the Irigaray central processing plant, where uranium oxide obtained through the wells is processed into yellowcake, an easily transportable powder version of uranium.
After ARMZ's 2010 purchase of a controlling interest in Uranium One, Barrasso wrote a letter to Gregory Jaczko, then chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, complaining about the sale because of worries Russia would take U.S. uranium.
“I just wanted to make sure that none of our uranium got sent to Russia,” Barrasso told the Star-Tribune in an interview at that time. “I don’t want the Russian government having access to our uranium-production capacity."
Russia wouldn't be able to export the uranium without obtaining export permits, Jaczko wrote back in March 2011.
“Before issuing such a license, the NRC would have to determine that the proposed export would not be inimical to the common defense and security of the United States,” Jaczko wrote.
Barrasso later said the response satisfied him, although he would monitor the situation.