TELLURIDE – Colorado radiation regulators violated key federal and state laws during their efforts to license a new uranium mill on Colorado’s Western Slope, according to a legal challenge filed in Denver District Court by the Sheep Mountain Alliance, a citizens group based in Telluride.
The lawsuit was filed on Feb. 4 and alleges that during their review regulators never allowed the public to ask them or Energy Fuels Inc., the company behind the Piñon Ridge Uranium Mill, technical questions about the project – an apparent violation of the federal Atomic Energy Act.
The complaint also alleges that state regulators did not follow the provisions of the Colorado Radiation Control Act when they issued the radioactive materials license on Jan. 5 to Toronto-based Energy Fuels. “Sheep Mountain Alliance exhausted all remedies before we decided to file this lawsuit,” said Linda Miller, a member of Sheep Mountain Alliance’s board of directors.
“We participated in the approval process but our concerns were not addressed. We’re disappointed that the state did not issue a decision that would have protected the public interest, and we must now rely on the district court to uphold the law.”
The legal challenge also accuses the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) Radiation Management Unit of violating key state statutes meant to protect Coloradans from carrying the financial burdens of cleaning up uranium mills, which have contaminated groundwater in every place they have been built in the state.
Those mills have cost between $50 and $500 million each to remediate, but Energy Fuels will only be required to provide $11 million in sureties to cover future cleanup and decommissioning costs of the Piñon Ridge site. “If state regulators ignore basic federal and state law to permit this mill, how can we ever trust them to monitor the mill once it’s in production?” said Miller.
Proposed for an 880-acre site in western Montrose County, operations at the Piñon Ridge Mill would dump hundreds of thousands of tons of radioactive waste into tailing piles that sit above tributaries of the Dolores and Colorado rivers.
Two independent reports provided to the state raise serious questions about whether Energy Fuels will be able to prevent contamination from occurring at its proposed facility. Also, a recent socio-economic report indicated the mill could jeopardize the region’s vital economic drivers, which depend on maintaining the area’s scenic and agricultural values. Since the uranium busts of the past, the region’s economic growth has come from tourism, recreation and the investment of retirees and others who relocate to the area. The report also concluded that the number of jobs created by the proposed Piñon Ridge Mill could be equaled by jobs created through the remediation of existing mine sites.
The lawsuit seeks the revocation of the state-issued radioactive materials license to Energy Fuels, which has stated it is busy pursuing Asian investors and customers for the uranium yellowcake the mill will produce. If successful, the legal challenge would require Energy Fuels to submit a complete application before state regulators could begin a new approval process that follows the basic standards outlined in the Atomic Energy Act and complies with state law. The legal challenge’s allegations include:
• State radiation regulators violated the Atomic Energy Act when they issued a radioactive materials license to Energy Fuels without providing a public hearing with an opportunity for the public to have their questions answered in a formal setting. Since 2007, CDPHE worked closely with Energy Fuels and its consultants to prepare the application for the mill, but refused to address technical questions posed by anyone else.
• Colorado regulators issued a license to Energy Fuels before the company had posted the necessary financial warranties to cover the costs of the cleanup of the radioactive and toxic tailings and wastes involved with yellowcake production.
• Despite the recently passed Uranium Processing Accountability Act that prohibits the licensing of a uranium mill where groundwater has been shown to exceed state standards, regulators ignored data that revealed groundwater samples taken at the Piñon Ridge mill site exceeded allowable standards for both radioactive materials and heavy metals. For more information, contact SMA at: 970/728-3729.