Proposal for uranium mill moves to next phase

The Pinon Ridge Uranium Mill to be located 12 miles west of Naturita got initial approval Friday on its application to build a mining facility.

But that doesn’t mean the Paradox Valley plant is anywhere near approved to actually be built, said Warren Smith, community involvement manager for the radiation program of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

All Friday’s announcement means is Energy Fuels Resources Corp. had all the pieces it needed to go forward with the next licensing phase, which is far more technical, he said.

Smith said the approval triggers a yearlong comprehensive technical review by the department, which means the company will have to provide detailed information about various aspects of the project’s construction and hold a series of formal public hearings on each.

The department already expects to issue a formal request to the company for information on soil and barrow material and foundation designs. Each request will include a separate public hearing.

“Everything triggers something else,” Smith said. “The application process is very clearly defined but hard to predict. One stage depends on the last. It ends up being at most about a 15-month process.”

In September, the Montrose County Commission unanimously approved the company’s initial application, but placed several conditions on it, including the right to impose more restrictions. The county will get another chance to review and approve environmental aspects of the technical review, Smith said.

The proposed mill is the first of its kind to be built in the nation in the past 25 years.

When built, the mill will process about 500 tons of uranium ore a day, which will be shipped to a conversion plant in Illinois, where it will be further processed as fuel for nuclear power plants across the nation. It also is to produce vanadium, a material used to strengthen steel.

A Naturita-based group, Western Small Miners Association, estimates the mill will result in more than 600 direct jobs, including miners, drivers and other professionals.

Company officials are hoping to start construction of the 1,000-acre mill by 2011.

The company will hold its first public meeting on the next application phase of the project Jan. 21 at Nucla High School, 225 W. Fourth Ave. It is to hold a second hearing a month later.

The application and other materials related to the project are available online at http://www.cdphe.state.co.us.


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