Uranium mill company to ride out hit from Japan nuclear crisis

The stock price of the company planning a uranium mill in Montrose County is telling the story of events in Japan in recent days.

The stock of Toronto-based Energy Fuels Inc. was trading at more than 90 Canadian cents per share a week ago on the Toronto Stock Exchange, but closed at 46 cents Tuesday in the aftermath of an earthquake and tsunami that left some Japanese nuclear reactors imperiled and resulted in radiation leaks.

“The impact on the market is that the market perceives it as a negative, and the (uranium) demand goes down for the short-term. It will take a while to stabilize,” said Steve Antony, the company’s president and chief executive officer.

He said the result is probably a six-month delay in the company’s development plans for the mill, which recently received final regulatory approval from the state of Colorado. But such a delay already was expected because of a lawsuit by the Sheep Mountain Alliance, Antony said.

He said the circumstances in Japan will make obtaining financing for the mill trickier.

“Financing becomes a bit more difficult when the market has short-term withdrawals, so to speak,” Antony said.

Even though short-term uranium demand likely will drop as plants are shut down to address safety issues and possibly make corrections, Antony said, he is encouraged by word from Russia, India and China that the problems in Japan won’t defer their nuclear-power expansion plans.

Meanwhile, a Moab activist thinks the crisis in Japan will get Utah residents rethinking a proposed nuclear power plant near Green River.

Sarah Fields, program director for the nonprofit group Uranium Watch, said she thinks the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the United States as a whole “need to take a hard look at nuclear power.”

“Even without this Japan emergency, which is really horrendous, I don’t think the NRC and the United States is really taking a look at what the implications are for the reliance on nuclear power,” she said.

She tries to imagine what would happen if a nuclear disaster occurred in Green River. Local medical facilities would be inadequate, and fallout could travel downwind as far as Grand Junction, she said.

“What would happen when I-70 is closed, when the railroad is closed down because of a nuclear accident? I mean, it would be horrific, just horrific. We don’t need this,” she said.

Although Green River doesn’t face much of a threat from earthquakes, much less tsunamis, Fields said, she long has questioned the feasibility of the proposed project there and believes it now faces a tougher battle for funding and political support.

“I think when people grasp the immensity of what happened in Japan, they’ll be much less inclined to support nuclear power plants,” she said.

Aaron Tilton, chief executive officer of Blue Castle Holdings Inc., which is pursuing the Green River project, said he doesn’t think the bipartisan support that exists for nuclear power will change. But he thinks the situation in Japan will result in more education of the public being required “for them to understand what took place and what is taking place in the U.S.”

The safety record of nuclear power in the United States is very good, Tilton said.

“A lot of the scenarios and considerations that they have in Japan just don’t apply to what we’re doing here,” he said.

The Green River plant would be required by the NRC to be designed to withstand natural disasters and emergencies, including even the possibility of a direct impact from a crashing jetliner, Tilton said.

“There’s another consideration: We’re not building 50-year-old technology,” he said.

As a result, the plant would benefit from things such as passive safety systems, including gravity-fed water that could be directed into the reactor core, unlike in Japan, where power outages meant pumps couldn’t deliver needed water.


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