“This area needs a uranium mill,” George Glasier, president and CEO of Energy Fuels Inc., said in his presentation to the county commissioners at their meeting in Norwood on Wednesday. “This made economic sense and that is what our company is all about.”
The proposed site for the mill, which was purchased last summer by Energy Fuels, covers approximately 880 acres in Paradox Valley, 12 miles east of Bedrock and right below the Cotter open mine pit.
The mill is being sized to process 1,000 tons of uranium ore a day, pulling the radioactive mineral from the Uravan Mineral Belt. The yellow cake product the mill produces will most likely be transported to an enrichment plant in Kentucky via semi for further processing into fuel for nuclear energy plants.
Even though the mill site is located in Montrose County, the San Miguel County Commissioners requested that Glasier make a presentation to answer any looming questions they or the public might have about a project whose effects, both positive and negative, will be felt regionally.
“The characteristics of the site are as good as they get,” Glasier said, citing that the mill would sit “reasonably close” to population centers “but not too close.” He also said that most of Paradox Valley’s underground geology is dry, making the site even better in regards to possible water table contamination.
“The mill is going to be state-of-the-art that takes 85 people to operate,” he said. “It will provide good paying jobs, fairly close to home.”
If the mill is ultimately approved and becomes operational, it will be the second operating mill in the U.S. next to the White Mesa mill in Blanding, Utah. The construction of the mill would be the first in 25 years.
Although the mill is planned to process uranium coming from mines throughout the region, Energy Fuels Inc. has already obtained an exploration permit of the Whirlwind Mine near Gateway, Colo., in which Glasier said his company is undergoing mine “renovation.”
After his presentation, Glasier answered question from the public and the commissioners that ranged from public safety and health to environmental concerns. Tension between the two parties was often thick, and frequently resulted in arguments over information presented by Glasier and his staff.
“This a $125-150 million project. How long will the construction take and who is going to take care of housing and the long-term impact?” Commissioner Elaine Fischer asked.
Glasier said construction would take 10 months, mostly done by workers, approximately 50 at a time, who come from out of town “without their families.” As for the 85 workers running the mill, he said, “We think 80 percent of the employees will come locally.”
Others questioned the containment of the mill’s tailings. Glasier said the slew of water and tailings will be set out to dry after processing, placed in evaporation ponds atop double-liners to stop underground contamination. Once the slew is dried, the tailings will then be capped, with leak detection devices installed to ensure their containment.
To process the uranium, the mill will consume 300 gallons of water a minute when working at full capacity. This is equal to the amount of water used to irrigate 40 acres of land, according to Glasier. The fresh water for the mill will be provided by a well on the southern end of the property that reaches water at a depth of 300 feet. Glasier added that, “evaluations are still going on to find out the size of the underground aquifer.”
“Is this [mill] a done deal?” Commissioner Joan May asked.
“We are in the collection period and will not submit an application until sometime early 2009,” Glasier said. The application will be processed through the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. “Then they will go through their process, which will take another year. Construction wouldn’t start until 2010.”