Commission approves Naturita uranium mill

Pointing to reasons including the desire to increase the nation’s energy options, the Montrose County Commission on Wednesday unanimously approved a proposed uranium mill in the Paradox Valley 12 miles west of Naturita.

The controversial project would be the first of its kind to be built in the United States in 25 years, says Energy Fuels Inc., the company behind it. It next goes to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment for its review, county Commissioner Gary Ellis said in an interview.

Commissioners attached 19 conditions to their approval of the project and reserved the right to impose more after the county receives the results of a planned environmental assessment, Ellis said.

He said the mill would be located close to uranium mines, provide an economic benefit to the county’s west side and help meet the nation’s energy needs.

“One of my concerns was energy independence on the part of our country,” Ellis said.

Project opponent Michael Saftler of Telluride voiced disappointment in Wednesday’s vote and took issue with the idea that nuclear energy, and the mills required to provide it, can be part of a clean energy future for the United States.

“It’s not appropriate to put it in the context of clean energy, because it’s not clean energy,” Saftler said.

He said the entire process of generating nuclear power, beginning with getting uranium ore out of the ground, is so potentially hazardous “that the end effect is anything but clean.”

The mill proposal has attracted hundreds of people to county planning and commissioner meetings over the last several months. Some said it would provide needed jobs in the region, while others objected to it based on public safety and environmental concerns.

Ellis said he’s confident the state health department review will result in monitoring, dust mitigation and other measures to help ensure the project’s safety. But Saftler doesn’t think the state has a strong regulatory stance on uranium mills.

“I’m not sure how the health and welfare of the county, much less the actual inhabitants of Paradox Valley, are being served by the decision (county commissioners) made,” he said.

A recent report by a Naturita-based group, the Western Small Miners Association, estimated the mill would result in 623 direct jobs and 766 indirect ones. It said increased direct employment would include 85 mill site personnel and 282 mining personnel, along with transportation workers, managers and professionals, and others.


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