The Nuclear Regulatory Commission tells the proponents of the proposed Piñon Ridge uranium mill to start over, CDPHE process failure


From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

The finding by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission could force Energy Fuels to start the application process from scratch.

“How we read it is, it’s back to square one. There are some pretty clear requirements in this process,” said Travis Stills, with Durango-based Energy & Conservation Law. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment opened itself up to scrutiny by failing to meet those public hearing requirements, Stills said.

“They need to let the public come in and raise the questions, put the technical claims in the application to the test,” he said. “It’s their burden, not just as a legal matter, but as a practical matter, to show they can do it safely, to where it won’t impact water quality,” he said, adding that there are multiple concerns about environmental impacts that have not been closely looked at.

“The air quality impacts have been repeatedly glossed over, and they never did do any serious analysis of what it could mean for deer and elk in the area,” Stills said. “The CDPHE just kind of brushed away the public concerns,” he said, adding that the CDPHE’s Radioactive Materials Licensing Department has a questionable history of managing radioactive sites. All the documents relating to the proposed Piñon Ridge mill are online at this state website.

In its March 6 letter to attorney Jeff Parsons, the NRC said, “The NRC has substantiated your concern that the CDPHE did not provide an opportunity for a public hearing or notice for public comment on the Piñon Ridge Uranium Mill proposed license … the NRC staff does not believe that the licensing of the Piñon Ridge Uranium Mill provided the public with an opportunity for comment or an opportunity for a public hearing (as required by federal law).”

The letter goes on to say that the CDPHE has agreed to modify its regulations to clarify public hearing requirements and “will work with Energy Fuels to provide an opportunity for a public hearing regarding the issuance of the new license” for the mill.

More coverage from Gus Jarvis writing for The Telluride Watch. From the article:

Telluride Town Attorney Kevin Geiger told members of the Telluride Town Council on Tuesday that the concerns of the town and opponents of the mill appear to be “substantiated” by the federal government.

“They are very concerned about the public hearing components and made a finding that the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment did not follow the proper procedures under federal law,” Geiger said.

Geiger cautioned members of council on further speculating on what the decision means but said it could lead to the reopening of a public hearing. The Town of Telluride along with Ophir and the Telluride-based environmental group Sheep Mountain Alliance have challenged the licensing of the uranium mill, with the legal services of Public Justice, a national public interest law firm. The litigation challenges the state’s licensing of the Piñon Ridge Uranium Mill, which was granted in January 2011. According to Geiger and Public Justice, possible impacts were given little or no consideration by the state in its review process. 
Colorado is an “Agreement State” under the Federal Atomic Energy Act, which gives the state ultimate authority to license and approve radioactive projects. The NRC decision apparently concludes that the state did not follow federal guidelines.

“We have said all along that the state needed to conduct public hearings, they did not,” Sheep Mountain Alliance Executive Director Hilary White said on Tuesday. “They needed to conduct a transparent application process, they did not. They piecemealed all off the things necessary to make an approval and that approval was based on a flawed process.

“The NRC gives the authority to the state to process applications under the Atomic Energy Act,” she continued. “Colorado is an agreement state but it still has to follow the law and they didn’t.”

More coverage from Katharhynn Heidelberg writing for the Montrose Daily Press. From the article:

What this actually means for the mill Energy Fuels hopes to build in the Paradox Valley depends upon whom you ask. Sheep Mountain Alliance’s attorneys say the NRC clearly found the state’s review process was flawed, while Energy Fuels contends the letter has little bearing because the NRC delegated its authority over uranium mills to the state.

Complicating the matter: The state Department of Public Health and Environment says it has not received the March 6 letter, which was directed to the complaining party, Jeffrey C. Parsons. Parsons is an attorney with the Western Mining Action Project, and represents Sheep Mountain Alliance.

More Piñon Ridge mill coverage here. More nuclear coverage here and here.

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