Colorado health officials OK license for uranium mill |

Colorado health officials OK license for uranium mill

Catherine Tsai
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado

DENVER – Colorado health officials approved a radioactive materials license Wednesday for what would be the country’s first new conventional uranium mill in more than 25 years.

Energy Fuels Inc. could have the Pinon Ridge mill in southwest Colorado built and running as soon as the first half of 2012, making a substance known as yellowcake to be used for nuclear fuel, said Gary Steele, senior vice president of corporate marketing.

The company also would start up its Whirlwind Mine in Mesa County, Colo., and the Energy Queen Mine in San Juan County, Utah, as it opens the mill.

Residents worried about the potential impact of the mill on air, water, wildlife and the local economy said they were disappointed by the health department’s decision.

“We feel they did not take into consideration hundreds of pages of documents of comments submitted by scientific and technical experts expressing concerns about the mills’ impacts,” said Hilary White, executive director of the Sheep Mountain Alliance.

The health department said it spent 14 months reviewing the application and considered technical documents and hundreds of stakeholder comments.

As planned, the mill would run 24 hours a day, almost every day of the year, with up to 85 employees, Energy Fuels has said.

The company has been exploring financing options, including U.S. sources and possible long-term customers in Asia, Steele said.

Energy Fuels wants to process up to 500 tons a day of uranium and vanadium ore about 12 miles west of Naturita in Montrose County.

Processing the ore would involve mixing it with water, grinding it into slurry, leaching it with acid to dissolve the metals then recovering uranium and vanadium from the solution. Most wastewater would be recycled, with the rest disposed of in lined evaporation ponds on site.

Conditions of the license require Energy Fuels to obtain all applicable health, safety and environmental protection permits from local, state and federal agencies and the health department’s approval of construction plans before building the mill, health officials said.

Energy Fuels also must post an $11 million financial warranty for decommissioning of the facility, deposit $827,590 in long-term care funds and submit a decommissioning funding plan, among other requirements.

Steele said the calculation of decommissioning costs was fully vetted by the health department.

Environmental monitoring would have to be in place before the mill accepts radioactive material.

A report conducted for Montrose County estimated the mining and mill activity could generate 516 to 649 new jobs.

Power Consulting, in a report prepared for the Sheep Mountain Alliance, estimated that number at closer to 116 and said radioactive waste could discourage businesses and residents from moving to the county.

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