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Tom Kertscher
By Tom Kertscher September 30, 2016

In a nuclear claim, Donald Trump says Hillary Clinton 'gave up' one-fifth of U.S. uranium to Russia

At a campaign rally in Waukesha, Wis., Donald Trump made a number of attacks on Hillary Clinton's tenure as secretary of state, including one involving Russia.

Clinton "gave up 20 percent of America's uranium supply to Russia -- to Russia," Trump said Sept. 28, 2016, two days after their first debate. "You know what people do with uranium, don’t you? It’s called nuclear. Twenty percent. They could have never done it without her."

That's a more narrow, and less inflammatory, version of an attack that Trump made previously.

But it still has problems.

The uranium deal

Before we get too far ahead of ourselves -- the United States gave a fifth of its uranium to Russia? What?

Uranium is used to power commercial nuclear reactors that produce electricity and to produce isotopes used for medical, industrial and defense purposes around the world.

As for the transaction Trump alluded to, it involved the Russian nuclear agency and Uranium One, a Toronto-based company.

As PolitiFact National has reported, Russia’s nuclear energy agency, which also builds nuclear weapons, bought a controlling stake in Uranium One. The company has mines, mills and tracts of land in Wyoming, Utah and other U.S. states equal to about 20 percent of U.S. uranium production capacity.

So, to be clear, the 20 percent is capacity, not uranium that has been produced.

Given that Russia doesn’t have the licenses to export uranium outside the United States, it was likely more interested in Uranium One’s assets in Kazakhstan, the world’s largest uranium producer, our colleagues said.

As the New York Times has reported, the deal was made in separate transactions from 2009 to 2013. It made Russia’s atomic energy agency one of the world’s largest uranium producers and brought Russian President Vladimir Putin "closer to his goal of controlling much of the global uranium supply chain."

U.S. involvement

So, what was Clinton’s role?

Since uranium is considered a strategic asset, with implications for national security, the deal had to be approved by a committee composed of representatives from a number of United States government agencies.

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At the time, the United States was seeking to "reset" its relationship with Russia and trying to get the Kremlin on board with its Iran nuclear deal.

The national security issue at stake in the Uranium One deal was not primarily about nuclear weapons proliferation, the Times reported, because 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.

Instead, it concerned American dependence on foreign uranium sources. While the United States gets one-fifth of its electrical power from nuclear plants, it produces only around 20 percent of the uranium it needs.

Trump’s claims

Now, back to what Trump said.

Trump’s previous claim on the topic, made in June 2016, was that Clinton’s State Department "approved the transfer of 20 percent of America’s uranium holdings to Russia, while nine investors in the deal funneled $145 million to the Clinton Foundation."

PolitiFact National rated it Mostly False -- mainly because there is no evidence of a quid pro quo.

As for Trump’s current claim, it’s overstated.

The State Department did approve the Uranium One deal, but it didn’t act unilaterally. It was one of nine U.S. government agencies, plus independent federal and state nuclear regulators, that had to sign off on the deal.

And as noted in a related fact check, while any of the nine agencies could have objected to the deal, only President Barack Obama had the power to veto it.

Even then, the president can only prohibit such transactions only with "credible evidence" that the "foreign interest exercising control might take action that threatens to impair the national security.’

Our rating

Trump says Clinton "gave up 20 percent of America's uranium supply to Russia."

The reference is to Russia’s nuclear power agency buying a controlling interest in a Toronto-based company. That company has mines, mills and tracts of land in Wyoming, Utah and other U.S. states equal to about 20 percent of U.S. uranium production capacity (not produced uranium).

Clinton was secretary of state at the time, but she didn’t have the power to approve or reject the deal. The State Department was only one of nine federal agencies that signed off on the deal, and only Obama had the power to veto it.

For a statement that contains only an element of truth, our rating is Mostly False.

Our Sources

YouTube, video (50:00) of Donald Trump campaign rally, Sept. 28, 2016

Politifact National, "Donald Trump inaccurately suggests Clinton got paid to approve Russia uranium deal," June 30, 2016

Washington Post Fact Checker, "Fact-checking Donald Trump’s attack on Hillary Clinton," June 23, 2016, "No ‘Veto Power’ for Clinton on Uranium Deal," April 28, 2015

New York Times, "Cash Flowed to Clinton Foundation Amid Russian Uranium Deal," April 23, 2015

Bloomberg, "How Putin’s Russia Gained Control of a U.S. Uranium Mine," April 23, 2015

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More by Tom Kertscher

In a nuclear claim, Donald Trump says Hillary Clinton 'gave up' one-fifth of U.S. uranium to Russia

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