Energy, Europe, New in Lobbying

Russian agency hires lobby firm to defend threatened uranium exports to US

Russia’s atomic energy agency has retained one of the biggest law firms in the country to push back against US calls to restrict uranium imports.

TENEX, the export arm of Russian nuclear power agency Rosatom, will pay Sidley Austin an estimated $20,000 a month to help negotiate an extension to an expiring uranium export agreement. The law firm was hired by White & Case under a legal services agreement the latter has had with TENEX since 2002.

According to the contract, Sidley Austin will provide “legal and strategic” related to negotiations over a decades-old agreement that suspended US anti-dumping investigations into several former Soviet countries. The original agreement dates back to 1992. The latest renewal, from 2008, allows Russia to supply up to 20 % of the US market demand for uranium products. It expires at the end of the year.

“In addition to providing legal and strategic advice to TENEX,” the lobbying registration states, “Sidley Austin may engage in lobbying Executive Branch agencies and Congress, and may disseminate informational materials in connection with imports of uranium from Russia and the potential basis for reaching an agreement on the extension of the suspension agreement.”

Russia had initially been looking forward for the export caps to expire along with the agreement. But growing business and national security concerns inside the United States have changed that calculation.

“A concerning level of supply of Russian uranium products is poised to enter the US market post-2020.”

Deputy Assistant Commerce Secretary Joseph Laroski

The showdown began in January 2018, when two US uranium mining and milling companies petitioned the US Commerce Department to investigate whether imports from foreign state-owned enterprises pose a threat to national security. The debate pits struggling domestic uranium producers against utilities who say it’s too expensive to run US nuclear power plants without affordable uranium from abroad.

The department determined that national security was indeed a concern. Rather than imposing quotas or other trade measures, President Donald Trump in June 2019 established a Nuclear Fuel Working Group to “examine the current state of domestic nuclear fuel production to reinvigorate the entire nuclear fuel supply chain.”

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A report from the group in April recommended extending the 2008 agreement and further restricting imports from Russia and other foreign countries while helping boost domestic production. Then last month the Commerce Department dropped a bombshell when it argued that the 2008 agreement and its sun-setting provisions were no longer in the public interest.

“In light of the pending termination of the Agreement and its export limit restrictions, a concerning level of supply of Russian uranium products is poised to enter the US market post-2020,” Commerce Department Deputy Assistant Secretary Joseph Laroski wrote in a June 17 memorandum. “Absent a reversal of the pending termination of the agreement [future Russian imports] will contribute to the inability of the current agreement to prevent the suppression and undercutting of domestic price levels. [In addition] we preliminarily determine that the agreement’s termination clause has led to the agreement no longer being in the public interest.”

The deadline for the Commerce Department to complete its administrative review of the suspension agreement is October 5. If the agreement is terminated without a new settlement, 120% duties on Russian uranium imports that have suspended since 1992 would go back into force.