Firm to proceed with permit for uranium mill
Montrose County officials took heart in Energy Fuels Inc.‘s plans to proceed with permitting its proposed Naturita mill, which it acknowledged to investors won’t go forward until the market improves.
“There was no way at the current market price that they could possibly consider” building the $150 million mill, Dianna Reams of Naturita said. “It would be foolhardy at best.”
Energy Fuels leaders told investors last week that construction of the mill would depend on an increase in the price of uranium oxide, currently languishing at $34 a pound.
“We are continuing to move the Piñon Ridge Mill forward in permitting,” Energy Fuels spokesman Curtis Moore said. “However, we do not intend to build it until market conditions warrant, and the price of uranium recovers.”
The question on prices “is ‘when,’ not ‘if,’ ” Moore said.
The Telluride-based Sheep Mountain Alliance, which has opposed Energy Fuels in court, said it’s clear that Energy Fuels has no intention of building the mill.
“It is time for elected officials and community leaders to work towards real and achievable economic opportunities for the West End communities,” Sheep Mountain Alliance Director Hilary Cooper said. “These could include the development of clean, renewable energy, small-scale agriculture and cultural and recreational opportunities which would all provide long-term growth benefits.”
Energy Fuels has been telling county officials for the last six months that building the mill was untenable at current prices.
“It’s all economics,” White said, noting that the price of uranium still could rise.
“What we have to remember is that the U.S. does import 94 percent of the uranium it uses” and a breakdown in the foreign supply could force prices back up, White said.
Global uranium prices have been hit with the double-whammy of the rise of natural gas and the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that caused a meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.
Montrose County is considering helping to fund an economic development office for what is known as the West End of the county, including the towns of Naturita, Norwood and Nucla, White said.
West End residents are familiar with the market constraints on Energy Fuels, White said.
“Mining has been a part of their heritage for 100 years and so they know the ups and downs of the mining industry,” White said.
Energy Fuels has submitted construction plans for the mill, which would occupy an 800-acre site near Naturita, said Reams, whose family is involved in construction and mining. “It does clear way for construction as soon as they are ready to go.”