CPDHE cries foul over NRC’s findings with the permit process for the proposed Piñon Ridge uranium mill

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From The Telluride Watch (Gus Jarvis):

In responding to that NRC finding, Dr. Christopher Urbina, executive director and chief medical officer at the CDPHE, stated in a March 16 letter to the NRC that his department has not received any formal notification on needed “corrective actions” from the NRC. He went on to say that these claims by the federal agency at this stage of the approval process, and during litigation, is unwarranted.

“The department conducted a robust public process, including two public hearings and six additional public meetings,” Urbina stated. “For a federal agency to come along at this late date and appear to muddy the waters is an outrage to all the community members, stakeholders and others who took the time to participate in the public process regarding the radioactive materials license.”

In its letter to the NRC, the CDPHE requested a retraction or clarification to mitigate any damage done by the distribution of this mischaracterization to the press…

CDPHE Community Involvement Manager Warren Smith said during the most recent NRC review, his department raised the issue as to whether or not the state’s public hearing process follows federal regulations, and up until the March 6 letter, CDPHE understood that its processes were in line with federal standards.

“The NRC has been stunningly inconsistent on the public hearing issue,” Smith said in a statement obtained by The Watch. “We raised the issue with NRC on several occasions around the application process and 2010 program review. As recently as the October 2011 NRC review of the Colorado statute and regulations, no incompatibility or corrective action was identified. Later, we believe federal officials flip-flopped and said they were reconsidering their answer.”

The first time the CDPHE heard of any issue with its public hearing process, according to Smith, came on Feb. 27 when NRC officials sent a letter to the radiation program of the CDPHE’s Hazardous Materials and Waste Management Division that “misstated” our previous conversations with them on the issue, giving the department until the end of March to respond.

“We asked for clarification on March 7, only to learn the NRC already had announced its predetermined decision in the March 6 letter without communicating this information directly to the state,” Smith said.

More coverage from Katie Klingsporn writing for The Telluride Daily Planet. From the article:

Late last week, the radiation program of the CDPHE responded with a letter to the NRC rebuking the federal agency for interjecting itself into ongoing litigation to which it’s not a party. The letter, signed by CDPHE’s Executive Director and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Christopher Urbina, urges NRC officials to retract or clarify the March 6 letter.

“Given that the NRC is not a party to this litigation and has no regulatory jurisdiction over the Energy Fuels license issued by the State of Colorado … it is inappropriate for the NRC to have interjected itself in this ongoing state litigation,” the letter reads…

[CDPHE’s Executive Director and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Christopher Urbina] also wrote that despite what the NRC wrote, no determination has been made that “corrective action” is required because the CDPHE is in compliance with the Atomic Energy Act. He noted that NRC’s letter “materially mischaracterized the CDPHE’s discussion with the NRC staff.”

Finally, he expressed disappointment that the CDPHE found out about the letter through third parties and after it was shared with the press.

It was unclear on Wednesday how this response will affect licensing process.

But the claim of a flawed public hearing process is a key part of the lawsuit filed by Sheep Mountain Alliance, Towns of Telluride and Ophir against the CDPHE. Litigation for that case is ongoing.

Hilary White, SMA’s executive director, said that the CDPHE failed to offer the public an opportunity to request a public hearing — as required under the Atomic Energy Act — after the agency issued its environmental report and draft license on the project.

“If Energy Fuels and the state really believe that they followed every appropriate procedure and took comment … why not have an official public hearing like they are required to do?” she asked. “Why not let their science and their technology stand on its own? All we’re asking for is a fair venue for our science and our technological information to be considered against theirs, and let the best science win.”

More nuclear coverage here and here.

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