Join the Email List
|Keep yourself updated with our newsletters!|
|PIÑON RIDGE URANIUM MILL|
PINON RIDGE URANIUM MILL LICENSE APPLICATION STILL FLAWED AND STALLED - After a court ordered hearing in November and a follow up order from the administrative Judge who conducted the hearing to the state to consider all information presented at the hearing, we now await another State decision on the license application due April 27, 2013. After presenting solid technical evidence against the mill and exposing several significant flaws in the license application, we feel the state has no choice but to deny the license this time around.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Nov. 15, 2012
Hearings over proposed uranium mill end, but Coloradans’ concerns over potential dangers, state regulation remain
MONTROSE COUNTY, Colo. – With public hearings over what could be the nation’s first new uranium mill in 30 years ending yesterday, Coloradans opposed to the project said evidence presented over the last week justified their worries, along with their concerns about the state’s ability to oversee it.
“After years of trying to work with Colorado state regulators, who regularly ignored our concerns and still refuse to release key information, we are grateful for the opportunity to directly question the state about the Piñon Ridge Uranium Mill,” said Hilary White, executive director of Sheep Mountain Alliance, the environmental organization who initially filed a challenge of the approved license.
Before the hearing began last Wednesday, Colorado Citizens Against ToxicWaste – a group of Colorado citizens who live near a Superfund uranium mill in southern Colorado – raised questions about the state’s ability to regulate the proposed Piñon Ridge Uranium Mill in a letter last week.
For more detailed information on this application process, comments submitted by our experts and additional talking points read on.
STATE MILL APPROVAL WAS FLAWED
The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has substantiated concerns that the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) did not meet federal requirements for a fair public hearing process when it issued a radioactive materials license to Energy Fuels Inc. to operate the proposed Piñon Ridge Uranium Mill.
On March 8, 2012, the NRC notified Sheep Mountain Alliance attorney Jeffrey C. Parsons that "CDPHE did not provide an opportunity for a public hearing or notice for public comment on the Piñon Ridge Uranium Mill proposed license."
Colorado Independent: Nuclear Regulatory Commission claims Colorado botched licensing of uranium mill
The CDPHE granted the radioactive materials license for the Piñon Ridge Mill on Jan. 5, 2011, authorizing the first new uranium mill to be built in the United States in a generation. The radioactive processing facility and tailings complex is proposed for an 800-acre site in Paradox Valley between the San Miguel and Dolores Rivers.
Please sign our petition to Gov. Hickenlooper to Stop the Piñon Ridge Mill.
Sheep Mountain Alliance filed a lawsuit against CDPHE to challenge the license decision on Feb. 4, 2011. In May, the Denver district judge rejected efforts by CDPHE and Energy Fuels to dismiss our legal challenge and the case is proceeding. SMA has also challenged Energy Fuels' legal filings for water rights to supply the mill.
We encourage you to express your concerns by writing the governor and asking him to revoke the license for the mill, to sign our petition, and to stay involved in the process.
Sheep Mountain will send out alerts when opportunities for public involvement become available. Join our email list.
For more information on the license and the latest updates from the State of Colorado CLICK HERE.
COMMENTS AND ANALYSIS
During the review process, Sheep Mountain Alliance submitted extensive reports, comments and independent analysis to explain our concerns about the mill.
Read the comments on geological issues.
Read comments submitted by SMA and organizations around the country concerned about the mill's impacts on Paradox Valley.
MORE ABOUT THE PROPOSED MILL & PROCESS
The Special Use Permit application submitted by Energy Fuels Corporation for the Piñon Ridge Uranium Mill to Montrose County was approved with 19 conditions in September 2009. The proposed mill site is located in the Paradox Valley immediately adjacent to Hwy 90, six miles from the Dolores River. SMA challenged this land use decision in district court and then appeals court, but the case was denied in October 2011. However, as a result of the rulings, two Colorado courts upheld the 19 conditions on the special use permit, including a prohibition against allowing the mill to process alternate radioactive waste feeds in the future.
In December 2009, Energy Fuels submitted its application to the CDPHE for a radioactive materials license. The CDPHE has held 4 "official" public hearings to date and has not announced any additional public meetings. The CDPHE issued a final license on March 7, 2011.
The CDPHE is currently reviewing Energy Fuels' permit application for the mill's air emissions and a draft permit is expected to be released for public comment in the spring or summer of 2012. Public input will be crucial to ensure that these remaining regulatory approvals protect our regional air quality.
Energy Fuels also received the required radon permit from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency last fall. While the EPA was reviewing the permit, Sen. Michael Bennet wrote the EPA and expressed Coloradans' concerns about the mill.
On April 21, 2011, Sheep Mountain Alliance joined Colorado Citizens Against ToxicWaste in a call to the EPA to withhold approvals of the Piñon Ridge Mill and submitted joint comments to the agency. Read our press release.
Energy Fuels is working through the remaining permits it needs from state and federal regulators and could receive final approvals to build the mill later this year.
TALKING POINTS FOR COMMENTS
REMEDIATE LEGACY BEFORE EXPANSION:
· Sixty years of uranium mining and milling have left a legacy of contamination on Colorado’s Western Slope.
· Every mill on the Western Slope of Colorado has a documented record of contamination.
· Many recently restarted mines have violations. Thousands of un-reclaimed and idle mines in the Dolores River Watershed are un‐remediated and unmonitored threats to ground water.
· Colorado and federal regulators have allowed mines to sit idle and restart without compliance with the laws designed to prevent contamination. Despite lofty rhetoric, industry and government are on track to repeat the mistakes of the past.
· Enforcing existing laws and implementing stronger regulations is necessary to clean up the existing damage. Companies should be required to comply with Environmental Protection Plans and all other regulations before the state or federal governments commit public resources.
· Colorado uranium mills have cost American taxpayers close to $1 billion in clean‐up efforts.
· The nearby Naturita Mill cost $85 million to remediate; Uravan Mill, now a superfund site, cost $120 million.
· Energy Fuels estimates that decommissioning the site, tearing down the mill, and perpetual care of the remaining radioactive wastes will cost less than $12 million.
· The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) allowed Colorado mills to operate with inadequate bonds: The Cotter Uranium Mill is bonded at $18 million. Recent estimates put clean-up in the range of $43 million, not including the cost to clean contaminated groundwater.
· CDPHE has not required Energy Fuels to establish a decommissioning bond and long-term care fund, mechanisms designed to ensure clean-up and decontamination if Energy Fuels later lacks the funds. The bond protects human health, the environment, and taxpayers.
· The boom-and-bust cycles of uranium mining in western Colorado have created unsustainable economies for the rural communities of the West.
· Resurgence in uranium activity will likely cause economic harm to the area’s tourism, agriculture, and recreation industries—the region’s leading economic drivers.
· Mill and mine reclamation and remediation projects offer jobs locally. A small, but growing, amount of state and federal funds are spent on remediation in New Mexico and Colorado. Expanding these programs would enhance the economy and create transitional jobs and income through reclamation.
· Where lands cannot be reclaimed, renewable energy production on these “brownfields” should be considered.
· Western Colorado is recognized for its solar production potential. Renewable energy development offers sustainable long‐term jobs and resources for the region.
· Uranium from the Piñon Ridge site will likely generate electricity in nuclear reactors in far off places, such as South Korea, China, or India. Existing U.S. reactors have ample and available uranium from decommissioned weapons and current stockpiles.
· As of early 2010, Energy Fuels, Inc. had only a few months of operating capital (approximately $2M), not the roughly $150M needed to build the mill. The socioeconomic impact of this speculative venture has already affected the local economy and not been adequately analyzed.
ENVIRONMENT – AIR, WATER & HEALTH:
· When uranium is pulled from its source, concentrated, and released into the environment, a product and a series of waste streams result that are extremely toxic to humans, wildlife, and the environment.
· Beyond yellowcake, the act of mining and processing releases additional radioactive elements, such as radium, thorium, and such toxic heavy metals as arsenic, selenium, mercury, and cadmium.
· No containment system has proven to be 100% effective over time, and radioactive and toxic elements contaminate water, air and the landscape for miles surrounding a site. Contamination travels through water, air, soil, and wildlife. Once released, it’s extremely difficult to contain and remediate.
· The Dolores River is within seven miles of the proposed mill. This waterway is a major tributary of the Colorado River and provides habitat for endangered Colorado River fish and threatened river otter, as well as recreational opportunities for everyone.
· The Towns of Telluride and Ophir, located approximately 50 air miles from the proposed mill, depend upon surface water for drinking. Recent studies found that pollutants from regional coal-fired power plants, some more than 200 miles away, were deposited in the San Juan Mountains.
· Mining claims in the Uravan Mineral Belt cover over 320,000 acres, 90% of which is public—land that provides environmental and recreational benefits for all.
The proposed Piñon Ridge Uranium Mill sits in the middle of over 320,000 acres of uranium claims, 90% of which are on public lands. Known as the Uravan Mineral Belt, the uranium deposit runs along the corridor of the Dolores River from Dolores County through Mesa County. In addition to our efforts to stop the mill, we are working on a Uravan Mineral Belt damage assessment to catalogue the environmental and health impacts from uranium development in the region and plan to use it to convince lawmakers and the EPA that we need to spend federal and state funds cleaning up the ongoing contamination as opposed to creating more.
The proposed mill would be a large industrial facility with 90 acres of tailings impoundments plus 80 acres of evaporation ponds on land used by elk, deer, and bald eagles for winter range. Additionally, the site has an underlying major fault zone located below the proposed tailings cell area.
According to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, mill tailings are “a potential hazard to public health and safety”. Energy Fuels has claimed it will have a perfect track record at the mill facility and any other potential operator will make the same claim. However, says Reed Hayes, a former uranium mill worker who fell into a vat of yellowcake, “mistakes will be made.”
In its latest financial report, Energy Fuels stated, "The Company’s ability to continue as a going concern is dependent upon its ability to finance its current and future operations and future acquisition costs. Although the Company has been successful in raising funds to date, there is significant doubt that adequate funding will be available in the future, or available under terms acceptable to the Company.”
Historically the uranium industry operates on a boom and bust cycle. When the uranium spot price is low, it has been hovering around $40/pound for the past year jobs operations shut down and jobs and revenues are lost. Currently, only one uranium mill operates in the U.S., the White Mesa mill in Blanding, Utah. Owned by Denison Mines, White Mesa Mill employed roughly half of its staff during most of 2009. Denison claims that the price must be at least $65 per pound for revenue generating operations. Although the uranium price fluctuates, it has not stayed high for more than one year since 1980.
An independent socio-economic study by the Sonoran Institute recently concluded that uranium mining in the region would negatively impact tourism and recreation industries in Southwest Colorado. The mill proposal has already caused a negative effect on real estate in the Paradox Valley, not only through a loss of property sales, but also through a loss of realtors who will list properties there.
If a mill is going to remain operational while the price is low, it must find alternative materials to store or process. As waste contains higher concentrations of radioactive metals and it often is stored onsite at mills, it is a greater danger to public health and the environment.
The Piñon Ridge Mill will use a sulfuric acid process to remove uranium and other minerals from the ore. The acid and other hazardous chemicals would be disposed in the tailings cells. Acids and chemicals degrade tailings cell liners. Leaking liners allow the concentrated and soluble waste products, acid, and other chemicals to travel through underground cracks and fractures, such as the major fault zone below the tailings cells. Not only can the metals, acid, and chemicals potentially travel through fractures under the tailings toward groundwater, but also, they can potentially travel through underground salt deposits toward the Dolores River.
The salt deposits underneath the Paradox Valley are not dry; they contain water which moves toward the Dolores River. The underground salt layer flows to the Dolores River, which ultimately flows into the Colorado River.
According to the Colorado Division of Wildlife, negative wildlife impacts are expected from the proposed mill; at the site, on the highways, and cumulatively from increased mining activity. The CDOW provided several recommendations to lesson the wildlife impacts. In its’ application to the State, Energy Fuels gave no definite commitment to apply any of the recommendations.
RADIOACTIVITY, CHEMICAL TOXICITY, AND HEALTH IMPACTS
When uranium ore is processed only 1% of the ore is extracted for use while 99% become "waste rock". In addition to radionucleides there are other concentrated radioactive metals left in the tailings, which remain radioactive for thousands of years. The mill application initially proposed to release over 1,300 pounds of radioactive particles into the atmosphere each year from the concentrated metals left in the tailings cells. However, Energy Fuels recently changed data in the model and came up with a new amount of less than 50 pounds of radioactive particles to be released. As the radioactive particles decay, they release radon gas and other forms of radiation. The decaying particles are picked up by the wind and travel for miles before depositing back on the earth. Radon gas attributes to more than 20,000 lung cancer deaths each year.
The cancer risk from radioactivity is only one health danger potentially caused by mill tailings. Additionally, radioactive metals left in the tailings are chemically toxic; meaning, the metals are poisonous. Also, there are concentrated hazardous chemicals in the tailings, which were used as part of the milling process. Furthermore, radioactive, toxic, and hazardous metals and chemicals have the capacity to harm human health not only through air releases, but also through water releases.
For additional information please visit:
Uranium mining in Colorado 2010: a publication by the Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety
Resolution of the Colorado Medical Society against uranium mining