NRC clarifies uranium mill licensing stance

The federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission is clarifying recent statements about a Montrose County uranium mill proposal, saying it does not intend to seek a retroactive review of Colorado’s licensing of the proposal. Nor will it intervene in a lawsuit challenging that licensing.

However, the agency continues to agree with the basis of that lawsuit: that the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment acted contrary to NRC rules in failing to let the public request a formal public hearing on the license proposal.

The NRC hopes to address the possible incompatibility between its rules and the state’s during a review next week of Colorado’s regulatory program for radioactive materials. But that review would have no bearing on the status of the Piñon Ridge Uranium Mill license, NRC spokesman David McIntyre said.

The clarifications by the agency come after Department of Health and Environment officials expressed alarm over recent NRC statements regarding the mill’s licensing. In a letter to the NRC, Dr. Christopher Urbina, executive director of the Department of Health and Environment, said the NRC had handed over its regulatory authority over uranium mill licensing to the state, and that the NRC lacked the authority to impose retroactive “corrective action” on last year’s licensing decision on the mill.

In an April 4 letter of response to Urbina, NRC official Mark Satorius acknowledged his agency had relinquished authority over licensing to the state.

On March 6, the NRC wrote to Jeffrey Parsons, an attorney representing the Sheep Mountain Alliance, saying it had substantiated his concerns about the inability to request a Piñon Ridge licensing hearing. The Department of Health and Environment said that letter directly interfered with a Sheep Mountain Alliance lawsuit challenging the license approval.

McIntyre previously denied any intent by the NRC to intervene in the suit, and Satorius reiterated that position in his letter. The NRC indicated its letter to Parsons was in response to a concern raised under an NRC complaint program.

In a Feb. 27 letter to the state, the NRC said the state is proposing holding a licensing hearing on the Piñon Ridge mill to resolve concerns. The state later said that was a mischaracterization of its discussions with the NRC.

Satorius said the February letter reflected how NRC staff interpreted the state’s comments in their discussions “and should not be taken to mean that the NRC formed a conclusion with respect to the validity of any individual Colorado licensing action.”

In a news release, Urbina said he is grateful for the NRC’s clarified position, and the upcoming review is the “appropriate forum” for resolving any licensing program concerns.


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