It’s welcome news that the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment re-issued a radioactive-materials license last Thursday for a uranium mill that Energy Fuels Resources Corp. plans to build near Naturita.
Now the company is waiting for uranium prices to improve before it invests an estimated $150 million in the first uranium mill to be built in the United States in more than 30 years.
But, as the Health Department noted in approving the permit for the second time, Energy Fuels has to bear the brunt of any economic uncertainty. It was not the state agency’s responsibility to determine whether there will be an immediate market for the power-plant grade uranium the company hopes to produce.
The department issued a permit for the uranium mill in Montrose County a little more than two years ago. But the Telluride-based Sheep Mountain Alliance sued, claiming the agency didn’t provide adequate opportunity for public input on the permit, and a judge sided with the environmental group.
So, late last year the Health Department held six days of public hearings in Nucla. It should come as no surprise that the well-planned uranium mill, which includes a multitude of environmental safeguards, again won state approval.
That decision angered members of the Sheep Mountain Alliance, whose president accused the agency of ignoring the scientific and technological evidence against the mill.
But the group’s credibility is damaged considerably when it also issues statements saying the Health Department was encouraging Energy Fuels “to build a radioactive waste dump on the Dolores River.”
As Montrose County Commissioner David White noted, the mill will be seven miles from the Dolores River, situated above nearly impermeable collapsed salt domes and rock. And the “radioactive waste dump” will be a carefully contained site for processed mill tailings with low-level radioactivity.
The Health Department made the right decision on a facility that will provide jobs for the Western Slope and will eventually help the nation meet its energy needs without increasing carbon emissions.