About the Uranium
So, now that the heat is getting turned up on the investigation of Russia interference in the 2016 elections, we are starting to hear more about how we really ought to be looking at the Clintons from certain media outlets. Indeed, this insistence deep into the first year of the Trump administration that Clinton needs to be locked up would be comedic if the context wasn’t so serious. Let me note that I think the question of what the Russians did (or did not) do in the 2016 elections should be a nonpartisan concern (although I recognize that this is a near impossibility in our polarized political climate). It should be an over-arching, serious concern that a foreign government attempted to subvert our democratic campaign processes through a series of activities. These include, social media manipulation, aiding opposition research, hacking of DNC e-mails, and meeting with representatives of the Trump campaign.
But, one might ask, what about the uranium deal?
For a lengthy piece on the topic of how a Russian company acquired control of a Canadian company with access to mining in the US, see the NYT from April of 2015: Cash Flowed to Clinton Foundation Amid Russian Uranium Deal. It is, as the title suggests, critical of the presence of the Clinton Foundation in this story. Specifically, the piece points to this issue: ”American political campaigns are barred from accepting foreign donations. But foreigners may give to foundations in the United States.” The piece (and the uranium story in general) is really one of corporate investment politics as well as the economic nationalism of Vladimir Putin (which has been strongly linked to the energy sector). As the article notes:
The headline on the website Pravda trumpeted President Vladimir V. Putin’s latest coup, its nationalistic fervor recalling an era when its precursor served as the official mouthpiece of the Kremlin: “Russian Nuclear Energy Conquers the World.”
The article, in January 2013, detailed how the Russian atomic energy agency, Rosatom, had taken over a Canadian company with uranium-mining stakes stretching from Central Asia to the American West. The deal made Rosatom one of the world’s largest uranium producers and brought Mr. Putin closer to his goal of controlling much of the global uranium supply chain.
Of course, uranium talk makes people think about nuclear weapons (and, indeed, I think a lot of the stories about this topic imply that this is the focus). However:
The national security issue at stake in the Uranium One deal was not primarily about nuclear weapons proliferation; the United States and Russia had for years cooperated on that front, with Russia sending enriched fuel from decommissioned warheads to be used in American nuclear power plants in return for raw uranium.
Still, the focus has really been on what sounds really (pardon the word choice) explosive: ”the sale gave the Russians control of one-fifth of all uranium production capacity in the United States.”
This is the focus on FNC, at Breitbart, and elsewhere: Clinton gave Russia 20% of US uranium!
The NYT piece provided the following:
Mr. Christensen, 65, noted that despite assurances by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission that uranium could not leave the country without Uranium One or ARMZ obtaining an export license — which they do not have — yellowcake from his property was routinely packed into drums and trucked off to a processing plant in Canada.
Asked about that, the commission confirmed that Uranium One has, in fact, shipped yellowcake to Canada even though it does not have an export license. Instead, the transport company doing the shipping, RSB Logistic Services, has the license. A commission spokesman said that “to the best of our knowledge” most of the uranium sent to Canada for processing was returned for use in the United States. A Uranium One spokeswoman, Donna Wichers, said 25 percent had gone to Western Europe and Japan. At the moment, with the uranium market in a downturn, nothing is being shipped from the Wyoming mines.
The “no export” assurance given at the time of the Rosatom deal is not the only one that turned out to be less than it seemed. Despite pledges to the contrary, Uranium One was delisted from the Toronto Stock Exchange and taken private. As of 2013, Rosatom’s subsidiary, ARMZ, owned 100 percent of it.
However, as WaPo notes:
no uranium produced at U.S. mines may be exported, except for some uranium yellowcake which is extracted and processed in Canada before being returned to the United States for use in nuclear power plants.
More completely see the following from James Conca at Forbes, Claims of Clinton-Russia Uranium Collusion Are A Real Empty Barrel:
Clinton’s State Department and several government agencies on the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States unanimously approved the 2010 partial sale of Canadian mining company Uranium One to the Russian nuclear giant Rosatom, supposedly giving Moscow control of more than 20% of America’s uranium supply.
Obama and Clinton colluding to hand over 20% America’s strategic uranium to the Russians? On cue, Fox News gabber Sean Hannity said this could be ‘the biggest scandal’ in American history.
But here’s the thing ― by 20%, we really mean almost zero.
Those U.S. facilities obtained by Russia produce almost nothing. The uranium deposits are of relatively poor grade and are too costly to compete on the uranium market. But the facilities do have good milling capacity to process ore, if anyone gives it to them, which hasn’t happened in about 10 years. Theoretically, they could process 20% of our ore, but that will never happen. Uranium One couldn’t give these facilities away.
Besides, Russia can’t export any uranium they produce in the U.S. They do not possess a Nuclear Regulatory Commission export license.
As Jeffrey Lewis, a nuclear nonproliferation expert at the Middlebury Institute, described it, Russia’s purchase of the company ‘had as much of an impact on national security as it would have if they set the money on fire. That’s probably why (all the U.S. agencies involved) approved it.’
At a minimum, the distinction between fuel for nuclear power and for nuclear weapons needs to be made clearer as this story is discussed.
It should be noted that the main progenitor of the uranium story was a fellow named Peter Schweizer (back to the NYT story):
Some of the connections between Uranium One and the Clinton Foundation were unearthed by Peter Schweizer, a former fellow at the right-leaning Hoover Institution and author of the forthcoming book “Clinton Cash.” Mr. Schweizer provided a preview of material in the book to The Times, which scrutinized his information and built upon it with its own reporting.
Not noted in the NYT piec is that Schweizer is a long-term writer for Breitbart. This does not make Schweizer’s research wrong, but is very much raises questions of his objectively in analyzing that information. If one reviews his pieces at Breitbart it is rather clear he was not a neutral journalist/research on the topic of the Clintons. This connection is the least important part of this story in terms of judging what it really means in terms of the facts, but it is noteworthy given the political significance it plays currently in right-wing media over the last several years into the current moment.
The real fundament of this story is one of corporate maneuverings that are not all that uncommon in the world of multinational corporations. It becomes political for three reasons: the Putin government’s economic nationalism, the activities of the Clinton Foundations, and the power of right-wing media.
It is now in the news because Trump supporters (such as Breitbart) need a squirrel! to distract from (or at least to muddy the waters around) whatever it is the Mueller is about to reveal.
A couple of side-observations:
-It is weird to watch pro-Trump actors to try and tout this uranium deal as a huge national security threat, when they have otherwise been trying to downplay Russia as an adversary.
-The NYT piece cited above illustrates the degree to which claims that the “mainstream press” were in the bag for Clinton are simply false.
-I can understand how stories like this raised questions about the Clinton Foundation.
-On that media point, it is amazing to watch people who will buy into the “Fake News” narrative will gladly rely on reporting from WaPo or the NYT if they like the content (as we have seen here at OTB this week for commenters who are more than happy to tout a WaPo story that connected the Clinton campaign to the dossier research.
-To reiterate a point I made above: the most important issue here should be figuring out how the Russian government has attempted to influence our elections.