Pinon Ridge uranium mill granted radioactive materials license |

Pinon Ridge uranium mill granted radioactive materials license

Sharon Sullivan

The first new uranium mill in 30 years is one step closer to being built since the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment granted a radioactive materials license to the Canadian-based Energy Fuels.

Energy Fuels Resources Corp. has said it plans to build the Pinon Ridge Mill, approximately 12 miles west of Naturita in Montrose County when the price of uranium increases.

The mill would process uranium ore from regional mines to produce uranium oxide, which will then be trucked out-of-state for further processing into nuclear-reactor fuel for customers in the U.S. and South Korea. The mill is also slated to refine vanadium, a metal used in steel alloys and high-tech batteries.

The next step for Energy Fuels is to acquire an air quality permit, company spokesman Curtis Moore said.

“Once we receive that, our plan is to build a mill when market conditions warrant,” Moore said. “I can’t say when that will be.”

Energy Fuels also owns the White Mesa uranium mill in Blanding, Utah.

That mill “is not operating at capacity,” Moore said. “As the price (for uranium) rises, at some point the Blanding mill will reach capacity, at which point Pinon Ridge will be needed.”

Various environmental groups appealed the state’s first approval of the radioactive materials license in 2011. Judge Richard Dana ruled in favor of the activists after learning the state health department had not held formal public hearings.

In November, the state held additional public meetings in Nucla to allow cross-examination of witnesses and to solicit additional public comment.

Last month the state announced that Energy Fuels had met all the regulatory requirements for the radioactive materials license for the Pinon Ridge Uranium Mill.

Marv Ballantyne of Montrose is disappointed that the state is allowing Energy Fuels to proceed.

“I personally feel if Energy Fuels is not going to build it now,” it shouldn’t have been approved, Ballantyne said. “They want to get under the regulations that exist today.

“The state is more in the business of approving applications than safeguarding human health in Colorado,” which is their job.

The mill and the estimated 85 jobs that would come with it are largely welcomed by the small community there, although those potential jobs are years away.

Jaimy Fulbright, a youth services librarian in Naturita, is one of those in favor of the mill.

“I’m excited. My husband is a displaced uranium miner, so for us this is great,” Fulbright said.

Mill opponents believe a more sustainable economy could be built on tourism.

“There’s the start of a tourism business going on there,” Ballantyne said. “It’s beautiful. There’s rock climbing, mountain biking, canoeing. It’s a viable attraction. But who would want to do it with a uranium mill to look at?”

The State of Colorado has established a $13 million financial surety with Energy Fuels for future clean-up of the site. Another separate agreement with Telluride and San Miguel County increased Energy Fuels’ bond to $15 million.

In an April news release the department’s executive director and chief medical officer, Chris Urbina stated: “From the beginning, we have listened carefully to the public and worked with Energy Fuels to minimize risks to public health and the environment. Today’s engineering standards — and strict environmental regulations — far exceed those in place when the last such mill was constructed more than 25 years ago. We are confident these standards and regulations will ensure the safe construction and operation of the facility.”

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