BEDROCK – Here on the banks of the embattled Dolores River, a new controversy looms on the horizon. Energy Fuels Inc., a Canadian mining company, has proposed to build a uranium mill in the center of Paradox Valley, little more than halfway from Naturita to Bedrock. The mill would be sited just off Colo. Hwy. 90 in the west end of Montrose County and would process up to 1,000 tons of uranium and vanadium ore per day.
The site of the proposed mill is smack dab in the middle of some of the most uranium-rich lands in the nation and the world. Much of the ridgetop to the northeast, the site of popular rock climbing areas, is owned by the Department of Energy. According to Energy Fuels press release, the mill site is within sight of numerous mines that have been operational in the past two years; the mill is also less than two miles from an open surface mine that has been on hold since 1984 due to uranium prices that were low until recently renewed interest in nuclear energy sparked a surge in prices.
The mill would be the first of its kind built in 25 years. Currently, uranium speculation is booming, with large numbers of new mining claims filed in western Colorado and eastern Utah in the past few years. The primary factor limiting production has been the lack of processing facilities. Currently, the only mill in operation is located in Blanding, Utah; another mill, in Cañon City, Colo., was closed due to regulatory and safety issues.
If all goes as planned, Energy Fuels expects to commence mill operations in 2010. The company gives the mill an expected lifespan of 30 years.
“As the commissioner representing the west end of the county, I’m very supportive of the effort,” said Montrose County Commissioner Allan Belt in an interview with The Watch on June 18. Belt expects the mill to be “a huge boon” to the West End economy. “Of course there’s a long way to go,” he said. “The price of uranium went down to half of what it was just weeks ago; this is a crazy economic time.”
Belt said that he has received some calls from Paradox Valley residents who are concerned about pollution of their water table. “I’ve been on site and looked at it,” he said. “If you’re going to have a processing mill, I couldn’t think of a better location.” In response to concerns about transportation of ore and processed yellowcake on public rights-of-way, “Their projections are that the new mill would reduce that, that travel to the mill at Blanding would create more risk,” Belt said. He said he feels that for the most part, people on the West End support the mill.
“As a board, [Montrose county commissioners] recognize that the environment has to be protected but that the huge economic shock to the West End is desperately needed,” Belt said.
John Metcalf, however, doesn’t feel the same way. The Ridgway-based Internet pioneer, political activist and owner of the Independence Café has mounted a campaign, called SavingParadox.org, to stop the uranium mill.
“Paradox Valley is a beautiful valley that shouldn’t be spoiled,” Metcalf said. Metcalf claimed an affinity for the Dolores River, which crosses Paradox Valley, as another reason he opposes the mill. “There is the danger of nuclear contamination of the environment, as well as the weapons systems which have been mostly forgotten about but which still threaten the world,” Metcalf said.
Metcalf has created a website, savingparadox.org, to raise awareness and disseminate information about the proposed mill as well as about the dangers of both nuclear energy and nuclear weapons. He is sponsoring a photo contest to get people out and about in Paradox Valley, and the entries will become a traveling art exhibit that will take images of the redrock valley and its river to cafés and other venues throughout the state and region. Metcalf will also have information available to the public at the Watershed Education Tent at this weekend’s Ridgway River Festival.
“My intention here is to bring awareness about what’s going on in Paradox Valley,” Metcalf said. “Awareness is the key.” — Watch Staff Report