Federal agency tour touts uranium mining comeback

Photo by William Woody—U.S. Department of Energy staff lead a media tour of reclaimed mining sites or those on standby status. The composite image of two photos shows an open pit uranium mine in Paradox Valley on Tuesday afternoon.

PARADOX VALLEY — Education and full disclosure is what government and uranium mining insiders say is key for the industry to rebound in the Uravan mineral belt of western Colorado.

The U.S. Department of Energy Office of Legacy Management hosted a media tour Tuesday for filmmakers and journalists at several uranium mines listed as either reclaimed or on standby status.Approval of a radioactive-materials handling permit for the Piñon Ridge Mill by Montrose County and the state has sparked new momentum for the industry, as has an increase in market demand, Edward Cotter, project manager for the S.M. Stoller Corp., a contractor working for the Energy Department, said.

Companies could resume operations at any of the standby sites within a couple of years, Cotter said.

The Piñon Ridge Mill is expected to take about 18 months to complete once Energy Fuels Inc., the mill operator, breaks ground.

The mill’s proposed location is on the south side of Colorado Highway 90, about 11 miles west of Naturita.

Critics of the mill say the process is dangerous, and any damage to the area’s environment and agricultural resources would become permanent.

Many mines could operate more efficiently because of the proximity to the Piñon Ridge mill, Cotter said. He said the mill’s operation would reduce transportation costs for companies by 90 percent and provide a rebirth to an economically depressed area in western Montrose County.

“It’s a benefit to anybody and everybody,” Cotter said.

A large amount of misinformation has entered the debate about the mining industry and its stewardship practices, said state Rep. Don Coram, R-Montrose, whose company, Gold Eagle Mining Inc., is planning to operate the C-JD-5 mine, an underground operation.

Coram’s 58th House District includes the west end of Montrose County.

New legislation needs to be tailored to the west end as opposed to a “one size fits all” approach, Coram said. That approach taints the west end with mines on the Front Range, he said.

“We will certainly acknowledge that mistakes were made in the past, and we have learned from those mistakes. This could be very beneficial to this area,” Coram said.

At the C-JD-7, an open-pit operation, Coram said there are 2.8 million pounds of uranium yet to be processed.

The C-JD-7 is owned by Cotter Corp., which is not associated with the federal contractor, Stoller.

“There is a couple of hundred million dollars worth of ore sitting four feet underground here,” Coram said. “A quarter of a billion dollars.”

Environmental safety standards need to be in place, Coram and Cotter said.

“We all want clean water, we all want clean air, and we want to protect that,” Coram said.

“Man isn’t perfect. Mining companies aren’t perfect. The rules have certainly changed from the 1980s,” Cotter said.

Asked what he sees when he looks at his unattended C-JD-5 mine, Coram replied jokingly, “About a negative million dollars.”


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