Construction Will Begin When Uranium Markets Improve
MONTROSE COUNTY – With the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s April 25 approval of its radioactive materials license, Energy Fuels, Inc. has cleared yet another hurdle in its campaign to develop the Piñon Ridge Uranium Mill.
All that remains is a CDPHE air quality permit, which Energy Fuels spokesman Curtis Moore anticipates receiving in coming months, before work can begin.
The Paradox Valley facility will be the first uranium mill built in the United States in over 30 years.
With that final approval in place, “We will assess the market and figure out when we can build this,” Moore said. “The uranium markets are down right now. They are about as low as they have been since Fukushima,” he said, referring to the March 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear meltdown that came in the wake of the devastating earthquake and tsunami in Tohoku, Japan. “There is a lot of supply out on the market right now,” he said, of nuclear fuel.
Anticipating a market recovery, Energy Fuels plans to build and operate its uranium/vanadium mill at a clip of 500-tons per day.
The CDPHE approval of the Canadian firm’s radioactive materials license imposes a range of conditions involving the construction of the mill regarding the receipt, possession, use and transfer of radioactive materials; procedures to minimize risks to property and public health and safety; and the prevention of loss and theft of radioactive material. It also requires an enhanced groundwater monitoring plan, subject to yearly review.
“This validates the science behind the application, design and potential construction of the mill,” Montrose County Commissioner David White said. “It is a state-of-the-art facility and will benefit the citizens of Montrose County, the State of Colorado and the United States for decades to come.”
While the public hearing process went on, a separate settlement agreement was reached, between the Town of Telluride and San Miguel County and Energy Fuels, establishing additional protections related to the transportation of radioactive materials, blowing dust and water quality monitoring, and increasing the approximately $13 million financial surety established by the state to an amount “not less than $15 million.”
“From our perspective, we were limited in what we could do,” Telluride Mayor Stu Fraser said. “The mill site is not in our county, and we have no control over what is occurring outside the county. Our best avenue was to go through Energy Fuels, and now we have a seat at the table relating to those specific issues” affecting the mill’s close neighbors.
“We did what we felt was the best thing for our community,” Fraser said.
Energy Fuels received an earlier radioactive materials license, in March 2011, after a hearing that was later declared unlawful by a Denver district judge, because a formal, adjudicatory hearing had not been provided. In November 2012, a six-day public hearing was held in Nucla, in which witnesses were cross-examined and public comment was solicited. Last week’s approval of the license seems to be the conclusion of a lengthy and contentious public review process.
“With the re-issuance of this license, Energy Fuels is in a position to expand uranium production capacity on the Colorado Plateau, as market conditions warrant,” said Energy Fuels President and CEO Steve Antony. “Acquisition of this license is a testament to the hard work and perseverance of our environmental and legal staff that has been working on this project since the Piñon Ridge property was acquired in July 2007. The company considers the license to be a valuable addition to its portfolio of assets.”
Calling the radioactive materials license “an important asset for us,” Moore said, “We are going to keep moving this project forward. And as the price of uranium does recover, more mines will open, and there will be a need for additional milling capacity.
“The license comes up for renewal in five years,” Moore said. “If we haven’t built it in five years, we will see what happens.”
POSTED ON APRIL 25 AT 10:25 a.m.
Piñon Ridge Uranium Mill License Approved
DENVER – The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment Radiation Program announced Thursday that Energy Fuels Resources Corp. has met all the regulatory requirements for a radioactive materials license for its Piñon Ridge Uranium Mill in the Paradox Valley.
The license was required before Energy Fuels could construct the planned 500-tons-per day uranium/vanadium processing facility, approximately 12 miles west of Naturita, in the Paradox Valley.
According to a press release issued by the CDPHE, the license imposes a number of conditions on Energy Fuels involving the mill's construction, regarding everything from the receipt, possession, use and transfer of radioactive materials to procedures for minimizing risks to property and public health and safety and the prevention of loss or theft of radioactive material. Notably, the license requires an enhanced groundwater monitoring plan, subject to annual review.
The mill will process uranium ore from mines in the region to produce uranium oxide, which requires additional processing outside of Colorado to become fuel for nuclear reactors. The mill also will recover vanadium, a metal used in steel alloys and high-tech batteries.
A separate settlement agreement between Energy Fuels and the Town of Telluride and San Miguel County sets up additional protections related to the transportation of radioactive materials, blowing dust and water quality monitoring. In addition to the approximately $13 million financial surety established by the state, this agreement increases Energy Fuels’ total surety to an amount not less than $15 million.
“With the approval of the license, our work is not done,” said Dr. Chris Urbina, executive director and chief medical officer of the CDPHE. “We will continue to work with the community members and officials to keep them informed of progress.”
During construction and operation of the Piñon Ridge facility, the CDPHE’s oversight will continue, including regular inspections and an annual review of the financial assurance. The CDPHE expects to have at least one staff member whose primary assignment will include monitoring and inspections of the facility.
“An exhaustive process has been followed and validated with the approval of this license,” said Ron Henderson, chairman of the Montrose Board of County Commissioners in the press release.
Montrose Commissioner David White said, “This validates the science behind the application, design and potential construction of the mill. It is a state-of-the-art facility and will benefit the citizens of Montrose County, the state of Colorado and the United States for decades to come."
The license application was submitted by Energy Fuels on Nov. 18, 2009, and has undergone a thorough technical and regulatory review. Prior to its approval of the license, the department and the applicant conducted eight public meetings in 2010 in Nucla, Naturita, Paradox, Montrose, Telluride and Ophir. And in November 2012, the department held a six-day hearing in Nucla to allow cross-examination of witnesses and to solicit additional public comment. All of the information was thoroughly reviewed by the state’s Radiation Program prior to the decision to grant the license.
The administrative record includes comprehensive reports and comments by engineers, scientists, environmental and business groups, government officials from western Colorado counties and towns, and regulators. Anyone interested can view the department’s Decision Analysis and Environmental Impact Analysis, which includes a copy of the license and the department’s responses to public comments.
Dr. Urbina said, “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.”