SAN MIGUEL COUNTY – In a long anticipated decision, the Radiation Program of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment announced on Wednesday its approval of a radioactive materials license that paves the way for the construction and operation of the nation’s first conventional uranium mill in a generation some 60 miles west of Telluride.
The license approval provided to Energy Fuels Resources Corp. for its proposed Piñon Ridge uranium mill, at the far west end of Montrose County in Paradox Valley, came nearly two weeks in advance of the state’s mandatory January 17 deadline. It completes a 14-month application review process that began when the company, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Toronto-based Energy Fuels Inc., submitted an application to the state in November 2009.
Because Colorado is among 37 “agreement states” to which federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission transfers authority to regulate and license uranium, the mill could not be built without the state license approval. It proposes to process 500 tons of ore per day, 350 days per year, to produce uranium and vanadium oxides, for 40 years.
“Energy Fuels has demonstrated it can build and operate the mill in a manner that is protective of both human health and the environment,” said Steve Tarlton, CDPHE Radiation Program Manager in a press release issued by the agency.
“Our comprehensive review considered short- and long-term impacts of the proposed mill, including radiological and nonradiological impacts to water, air and wildlife, as well as economic, social and transportation-related impacts.”
The CDPHE’s 432-page Decision Analysis and Environmental Impact Analysis imposes a number of conditions on Energy Fuels that must be met before construction can begin, before it can receive any radioactive material and for ongoing operation. Financial assurance requirements including an $11 million decommissioning bond are also included.
The CDPHE may impose additional requirements and conditions regarding the receipt, possession, use and transfer of radioactive material to minimize risks to public health and safety or property, and to prevent loss or theft of material throughout the term of the license. Radioactive materials licenses for uranium milling typically are renewed on a five-year cycle and can be amended to reflect changes in operations or conditions. Significant amendments and renewals require a prescribed public process.
“We’re of course extremely disappointed, and we continue to be very concerned that this mill and the process that approved this mill will allow for pollution of clean air and clean water for the entire region, and undermine the region’s long term prosperity,” said Hilary White, executive director of the Telluride-based conservation group Sheep Mountain Alliance, which opposes the mill, in response to the news. “We think this was a rushed decision and it appears the regulators ignored hundreds of pages of comments from scientific experts that raised concerns about the mill’s impacts.”
White said it would take some time for the group to review the decision document and to decide upon its response.
In the meantime, Energy Fuels has 60 days to review the decision analysis and license, and to request a formal hearing, if desired. That hearing is designed to render a final decision that may be appealed to District Court.
If a hearing is not requested, the license then becomes final.
“We’re pleased,” with the initial decision, said Energy Fuels Chief Executive Officer Steve Antony.
“We have to wade through the decision to see what they’ve asked us to do to be in compliance to decide whether or not we’re going to appeal.”
In the event the company does not pursue an appeal, Antony estimated that construction could begin on the mill no earlier than fall 2011.
“We still have fundraising to complete and final engineering to do before you can actually turn the dirt,” he said.
The license conditions and other materials pertaining to the CDPHE’s Piñon Ridge decision may be found online at: http://www.cdphe.state.co.us/hm/rad/rml/energyfuels/index.htm.