Federal agency faults Piñon Ridge licensing

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission says the state of Colorado acted contrary to NRC rules in failing to let the public request a hearing on the licensing of the Piñon Ridge Uranium Mill in Montrose County.

It says the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment is now proposing working with the company behind the project, Energy Fuels, to hold such a hearing.

The NRC said in a letter to attorney Jeffrey Parsons it substantiated his concern over the hearing issue and a failure to provide notice for public comment on the license. Parsons represents the Sheep Mountain Alliance, which raised those same concerns in a lawsuit challenging the state’s approval of the license last year.

NRC spokesman David McIntyre said the agency isn’t intervening in the suit, and its action has no bearing on that litigation. Nor is it challenging the status of the license, but the public must be afforded the opportunity to request a hearing in order for the state’s regulations to be compatible with NRC rules, he said.

Parsons called the agency’s position “highly significant.” He said a hearing, allowing for testimony and cross-examination, is needed in order to assess the science being applied to areas such as air and water quality.

“We believe that, if given an opportunity (to challenge it), the science will prove lacking,” he said.

Warren Smith, community-involvement manager for the Hazardous Materials and Waste Management Division of the state health department, said the NRC hasn’t formally notified the state “of any deficiencies requiring a corrective action.” However, he said the state received a Feb. 27 letter from the NRC about the hearing issue and is preparing a response.

He said the state’s licensing review “featured a very robust public process,” and its decision was based on sound technical criteria.

Energy Fuels spokesman Curtis Moore said the NRC position “doesn’t mean anything” because the NRC has no say over licensing of uranium mills in Colorado, after having delegated that responsibility to the state under an agreement with the state.

“They don’t have authority to go back and do anything to previously granted licenses,” he added. “... For the NRC to come in midstream here and start making waves like this is not exactly proper.”

McIntyre said the problem is that while the NRC has issued licensing, inspection and enforcement authority over radioactive materials to the state, the state can’t act in a manner incompatible with NRC rules.


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