Bill focuses on cleanup of uranium mills
A bill that would further regulate uranium processing in the state could have little impact on a proposed Western Slope facility, the owner of that local mill said.
Though the measure could affect one operating near Canon City, the planned Piñon Ridge mill 12 miles west of Naturita already would be required under existing laws to do much of what House Bill 1348 calls for, said George Glasier, president and CEO of Energy Fuels Inc., which is hoping to open the first uranium mill in the nation in 25 years.
Glasier said the measure, introduced by several southern Colorado lawmakers, is aimed at the Cotter Uranium Mill in Fremont County, which has been plagued with contamination problems since the late 1950s.
The lawmakers said they introduced the measure to deal with long-standing concerns over cleanup of that mill, parts of which already are a federal Superfund cleanup site.
The bill is aimed at existing mills that release radioactive material into the groundwater, requiring them not only to report how it is being cleaned up, but also ensuring they have set aside enough cash to pay for it, said Rep. Buffie McFadyen, D-Pueblo West, and the bill’s sponsor.
It would bar mills from expanding operations until the contamination is removed, she said.
John Hamrick, Cotter’s vice president of milling, said the measure could put his mill out of business.
“Cotter has a substantial history of violations ... and I’m not here to defend that record,” he told the House Transportation and Energy Committee, which approved the bill unanimously Thursday. “It’s not a good record at all, and it’s something that has to be acknowledged before it can get better.”
But Hamrick, who took control of milling operations at Cotter in 2006, said he’s corrected many of those problems, adding that executives who ran the facility before that time have either resigned, retired or were fired.
The bill would make it harder for Cotter to get the site cleaned and make it impossible for other sites, including ones not yet opened, to stay in business, he said.
“The bill as written essentially will prevent uranium milling within the state because of language concerning release of materials,” Hamrick said. “If you have a shovel full of uranium ore and you dump it on the ground, at that point you have a release that would exceed standards. That’s a poison pill for uranium mills.”
McFadyen, however, said it’s not unreasonable for the state to expect that shovel of uranium to be cleaned up before going back to work.