Uranium license OK’d by health department

With a major regulatory hurdle out of its way — again — Energy Fuels Resources Corp. is now looking to the uranium market for the signal to move ahead with construction of a mill.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment reissued the radioactive-materials license Thursday after officials culled though six days’ worth of testimony, much of it under oath, taken in Nucla late last year.

The license comes, however, as uranium prices have tumbled to lows not seen since the 2011 Fukushima disaster, acknowledged Curtis Moore, director of communications and legal affairs for Energy Fuels.

The $150 million project will go forward “when market conditions and our production requirements warrant it,” Moore said.

The company remains bullish on the long-term prospects of the mill, Moore said, noting that the same number of reactors, if not more, are being planned now as before Fukushima.

The decision sparked a rebuke from the Sheep Mountain Alliance, which filed suit originally to have the license revoked, contending among other things that the state agency failed to conduct appropriate public hearings and that the weight of evidence showed the mill as an environmental threat.

“We are extremely disappointed that the state opted to ignore the scientific and technical evidence against the mill,” Director Hilary Cooper said in an email. “And further we are shocked that the state, through this decision, is strongly encouraging Energy Fuels to build a radioactive waste dump on the Dolores River.”

By green-lighting the mill at a time when uranium prices are low, state officials “are operating well outside the mission of public health and safety,” Coop-er said.

The mill, which would be built near Naturita, “is not on the Dolores River,” Montrose County Commissioner David White said. “It’s seven miles from the river and sitting on thousands and thousands of feet of collapsed salt dome and rock” that no leak from the mill would be able to permeate and travel through to the river.

Montrose County supported the mill and issued a conditional-use permit for the project.

Residents of the Nucla-Naturita-Norwood area are “excited, to say the least,” said White, whose commissioner district includes the three communities. “They’ve needed a good shot of optimism for a long time.”

In the decision, the Health Department noted at one point that radiation, while dangerous, is “what sustains life on Earth and is probably responsible for the evolution of life on the planet.”

Despite boom-and-bust economic cycles, facilities such as uranium mills tend to hold some level of employment, the department noted.

It concluded, “The failure of the project is a risk that is borne primarily by Energy Fuels Resources Corp. and the potential benefits of the project appear to outweigh the costs across all segments of the larger community.”

If built, the mill would be the first uranium mill to be constructed in the United States in three decades. The last mill, White Mesa in Blanding, Utah, is owned by Energy Fuels, which obtained it in a merger with Denison Mines Corp. last year.


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