Energy policy — nuclear: Uranium boom on the horizon?

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Southwestern Colorado is looking at another potential uranium boom. Nuclear power is widely held to be part of the solution to global warming by many. Others feel that the storage of the waste and byproducts is an unfair burden to scores of future generations of humankind. Here’s a report from Joe Hanel writing for the (Cortez Journal). From the article:

Uranium proponents in Nucla and Naturita point to hopeful signs. A U.S.-Russian program to use old Soviet nuclear weapons for fuel in American power plants is set to expire in 2013. The United States already is heavily dependent on uranium imports – it produced only a tenth of the uranium it used in 2006, according to the Energy Information Administration. People here follow uranium news so closely that Nucla’s local newspaper, the San Miguel Basin Forum, prints the market price of uranium every week on its front page. It’s hovering around $52 – well below its high of $138 during a speculative bubble in 2007, but more than double the price during the 1980s and ’90s.

The price was right for George Glasier, a local rancher with a long career in the uranium business, to form Energy Fuels Corp. three years ago. Glasier wants to build a mill in the Paradox Valley to process uranium and vanadium, an element that’s used to harden steel. At $50 a pound, uranium mining makes sense in Colorado as long as there’s a mill, Glasier said. His company is here to stay, he said, unlike some firms that make money by “mining on Wall Street.”

“This is a company that has experienced guys,” Glasier said. “We’re producers, not promoters.”[…]

Lawsuits might dog the Piñon Ridge mill, too. Glasier said he wouldn’t be surprised to be sued over the mill. His county permit, if it’s approved in August, gives him five years to get the mill built. Stills also is working with mill opponents. He and his allies say the mill will have troubles with water supply and might pollute groundwater – a charge Glasier disputes. “It’s non-issue. We aren’t going to affect anybody’s water rights,” Glasier said. The mill will use 130 gallons a minute – less than he uses to irrigate the hay field at his ranch, he said. The Paradox Valley’s farms are mostly on the lush west side, where the water table won’t be affected by the mill’s wells, Glasier said. Opponents also say dust from the mill will be blown out of the windy Paradox Valley east to Telluride. But Glasier says dust will not be a problem. The mill keeps the uranium wet, so the dust will never be dry enough to fly away, he said. Glasier said he will make whatever health and safety improvements anyone suggests to the mill, but he won’t back away from it altogether. “The environmental community ought to be involved in a dialogue to make this mill better, not to stop it,” Glasier said.

The area still shows effects of past mining activity. Here’s a report from Joe Hanel writing for the Cortez Journal. From the article:

5,000 tons of uranium ore that remains on the surface from Colorado’s last boom, according to a Department of Energy environmental study. Five thousand tons of rock is only a few months of production from a mid-sized mine, but it’s enough to concern Travis Stills, a Durango lawyer who is leading the legal challenge to the DOE’s plan to lease Colorado land for uranium mining…

Piles of waste rock at uranium mines could cause trouble if water runs off them into creeks, said Angelique Diaz, an environmental engineer for the Environmental Protection Agency’s Denver office. The piles are radioactive and give off radon gas, but not in significant quantities, Diaz said…

The BLM has asked the state to put several old mines in the Paradox Valley on its list, [Loretta Pineda, director of the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety abandoned mines program said. She had a project on tap near Uravan a few years ago, but they put it on hold when people started staking claims in the area. Anyone who opened a new mine would have to clean up the old pollution first.

In other nuclear news the Nunn Town Board recently rejected approval for a resolution in support of Powertech’s proposed in-situ uranium mining operation near the town. Here’s a report from Collin Lindenmayer writing for The Greeley Tribune. From the article:

“Most people who live here don’t want this,” said Gerrit Voshel, who lives outside of Nunn near the Centennial Project site, during a short recess from the meeting. Voshel said the risk of contaminating groundwater — even if the risk is slight — is not worth the gamble. “The population density is far too great to risk that,” he said. “If they make a mistake, they’ll shrug their shoulders and move on.”

At a town meeting in July, Powertech Chief Operations Officer Wallace Mays and CEO Dick Clement noted the corporation’s track record and the potential economic benefits as reasons to support building the mine. The resolution in support of Powertech was introduced as a starting point for dialogue between the corporation and the town. It dealt with safety procedures and possible infrastructure stresses that could be caused by mine usage.

More nuclear coverage here and here.

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