Naturita jobs from uranium revival don’t sway its foes
NATURITA — The state’s approval last week of a radioactive-materials license for the Piñon Ridge uranium mill set off a reverberation of support and hope for economic revival to this economically depressed area.
At Blondie’s Drive-In and Cafe on Thursday, lunch-hour patrons congratulated and praised Energy Fuels Resources founder George Glasier and his wife, Kathy, offering handshakes of support and fishing for news as to when the mill could open.
“So when do we start?” resident Byron Files asked.
“We’re gonna wait and see.We’re real close,” Glasier said repeatedly.
Working the cash register of the restaurant was Patty Taber, who saw the news as a possible life-changer for the area. Taber is a lifelong resident of Uravan, a town named for uranium and vanadium, which was discovered here in 1898.
Taber’s father and brother-in-law were uranium miners until the industry dried up in the 1980s.
“We need the jobs,” Taber said. “This is really exciting.”
The mill, to be built 12 miles west of Naturita, would be the first uranium mill built in the United States since 1981.
“I think this is going to be a big business boom for the area, good for the economy,” Nucla resident Jeannie Armwood said.
Glasier credits the success of the approval to the mill site itself, saying the company could not have found a better site for the $150 million plant.
“We had one of the guys out, and he said, ‘If you can’t license this site, then you can’t license any site anywhere,” Glasier said.
Craig Pirazzi is co-founder of the Paradox Valley Sustainability Association, a group not only opposed to the mill’s location but the production of yellowcake and the storage of potentially hazardous waste in the Paradox Valley.
His home sits 14 miles from the Piñon Ridge site.
“If Glasier says this mill will be the safest and cleanest, then why doesn’t he want to build it on his own land? It’s almost a comeback to ‘I don’t want this on my property or my neighbor’s property,’ ” Pirazzi said.
Pirazzi is a Paradox Valley volunteer firefighter and said he has concerns about chemical spills in the area from trucks carrying sulfuric acid to the mill. Two to three truckloads of acid per day would be needed to process the ore, according to the company.
“If a truck runs off the road, who responds to that?” Pirazzi said. “I know we’re not capable of responding. I’m not sure I want to respond to a spill like that.”
About 50 members of the association live in the valley and oppose the mill and its potential threat to the valley’s air quality, Pirazzi said.
“I don’t know if you’re aware, but in this valley we have some pretty massive inversions,” he said. “The air just sits in this valley … and because this is an evaporative process, that waste will hang in the air, and we want to know what chemicals could possibly be hanging up there,” Pirazzi said. “Those are the details we would like answered.”
Pirazzi said opponents remain silent because of the potentially violent nature of the mill debate.
“If this mill doesn’t go in, somebody is going to get shot. That’s what somebody told me,” Pirazzi said.
Concern over jobs
Pirazzi fears the mill’s jobs would be temporary, and that the facility would contribute to the legacy of the area leaving behind massive amounts of nuclear waste. More positive, sustainable jobs are what the area needs, Pirazzi said.
“With everything that is involved, this is a most expensive way to boil water,” Pirazzi said.
At Blondie’s, customers said the environmental concerns are overblown, overstated and are overshadowed by the dire need for economic revival.
“I think they’re just paranoid,” Wendy Bell of Nucla said. “You can die doing anything.”
Bell’s father and grandfather worked in the mines during the last boom, and Bell said they suffered no health problems.
“New technologies are making this stuff even more safe to work with,” Bell said.