Uranium brought George Glasier to the Colorado Plateau in the late 1970s when he was a corporate lawyer for a mining company called Energy Fuels Nuclear.
One of his projects in those days was putting together the land for a uranium mill that Energy Fuels Nuclear wanted to build near Blanding, Utah.
That mill, the White Mesa Mill, was built and operational by 1980. It’s currently the only operational mill in the United States and is owned by Denison Mines.
After the death of its founder, Bob Adams, Energy Fuels Nuclear was sold in 1992. By that time, Glasier was part-owner and his proceeds from the sale enabled him to pursue a lifelong dream of being a cattle rancher.
“I always wanted to live on the land,” Glasier said. His search for a working ranch led him across Colorado, into Montana, Idaho and Wyoming.
Finally, a property in the western half of Montrose County became available and Glasier and his wife, Kathy, bought it in 1992.
“It was amazingly run down, but it had good outbuildings and pens. It was a coincidence that the ranch was in a uranium area that I knew,” Glasier said.
The ranch carried 1,000 head of cattle year round, with both winter and summer grazing.
“I knew the country from uranium. I didn’t know it from ranching, but it turned out to be some of the best ranch land in the western U.S.”
Glasier jumped into the life of a western Colorado rancher living near a small town and worked the ranch as his only full-time job for 18 years.
“Ranchers respect the fact that I’m still here after 18 years, still ranching,” Glasier said. “I’m on the ditch board and I’m accepted by other ranchers. I don’t have any intent to leave.”
Glasier also had no intention of getting back in the uranium business. He watched prices plummet as low as $7 per pound back in 1992 and remain depressed for the remainder of the 1990s. He also watched his adopted town begin to fade as mining jobs were lost and families moved away in search of better opportunities.
Uranium prices began climbing in 2000. By 2005, Glasier decided to jump back into the uranium business and formed Energy Fuels, naming the new company after the old one as a tribute to the reputation of the former company and its founder, Bob Adams. Several members of the former Energy Fuels Nuclear Company joined the new Energy Fuels, including the current Chief Executive Officer Steven Antony, and Chief Financial Officer Jeffrey Vigil.
“I started the company for my own benefit, but also for the benefit of the community,” Glasier said. “I see the community dying, our schools are shrinking. We had 80 graduates when uranium was booming. Last year there were 12 or 13. Our community needs to survive.”
Like he did with the original Energy Fuels Nuclear in the late 1970s, Glasier helped the fledgling Energy Fuels acquire land and mining properties in both Colorado and Utah. He guided the company through the initial stages in planning the Piñon Ridge Mill — the first uranium processing mill project in the U.S. since the White Mesa Mill — and the refurbishment of the Whirlwind Mine near Gateway, bringing it up to current safety standards.
Glasier also continued to operate his ranch full-time. By 2010, something had to give and he chose to step down from the day-to-day operations of the company.
“I’m still involved in the uranium industry as a consultant,” Glasier said. “I’m still the face of Energy Fuels locally since I’m the founder of the company. I care very much about what happens to the local community and the uranium industry.”
Glasier spoke at the Grand Junction Chamber of Commerce Energy Briefing in January about the future of the uranium industry and what it could do for the economy. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) granted Energy Fuels a Radioactive Materials License in early January, which gives the company approval to build and operate the new processing mill. While CDPHE was reviewing the application, there were eight public meetings about the project.
Many locals support the mill, anticipating more jobs, higher wages and more services. Others, especially those with ties to the Telluride tourism industry, are opposed.
“The White Mesa Mill is about the same distance from Telluride,” Glasier said. “It’s been there 30 years; it hasn’t done anything to air quality.”
In addressing concerns from organic producers in the area, Glasier notes that there are large certified organic farms near the decommissioned Cotter uranium mill near Cañon City. The Cotter mill didn’t ruin local agriculture by proximity.
At this point, those who oppose the mill could file suit. Gary Steele, vice-president of Energy Fuels, says it won’t deter the company from pursuing financing to build the mill.
“We’re highly confident in the process we went through,” said Steele, “the due diligence, the issues raised by CDPHE and the answers we gave.”
The company hopes to start construction of the mill within the next year.