The proposed Piñon Ridge uranium mill will be the first new plant in US in 30 years


From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

With a major regulatory hurdle out of its way — again — Energy Fuels Resources Corp. is now looking to the uranium market for the signal to move ahead with construction of a mill. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment reissued the radioactive-materials license Thursday after officials culled though six days’ worth of testimony, much of it under oath, taken in Nucla late last year.

The license comes, however, as uranium prices have tumbled to lows not seen since the 2011 Fukushima disaster, acknowledged Curtis Moore, director of communications and legal affairs for Energy Fuels. The $150 million project will go forward “when market conditions and our production requirements warrant it,” Moore said. The company remains bullish on the long-term prospects of the mill, Moore said, noting that the same number of reactors, if not more, are being planned now as before Fukushima.

The decision sparked a rebuke from the Sheep Mountain Alliance, which filed suit originally to have the license revoked, contending among other things that the state agency failed to conduct appropriate public hearings and that the weight of evidence showed the mill as an environmental threat. “We are extremely disappointed that the state opted to ignore the scientific and technical evidence against the mill,” Director Hilary Cooper said in an email. “And further we are shocked that the state, through this decision, is strongly encouraging Energy Fuels to build a radioactive waste dump on the Dolores River.”

By green-lighting the mill at a time when uranium prices are low, state officials “are operating well outside the mission of public health and safety,” Cooper said.

The mill, which would be built near Naturita, “is not on the Dolores River,” Montrose County Commissioner David White said. “It’s seven miles from the river and sitting on thousands and thousands of feet of collapsed salt dome and rock” that no leak from the mill would be able to permeate and travel through to the river. Montrose County supported the mill and issued a conditional-use permit for the project. Residents of the Nucla-Naturita-Norwood area are “excited, to say the least,” said White, whose commissioner district includes the three communities. “They’ve needed a good shot of optimism for a long time.”

In the decision, the Health Department noted at one point that radiation, while dangerous, is “what sustains life on Earth and is probably responsible for the evolution of life on the planet.”

Despite boom-and-bust economic cycles, facilities such as uranium mills tend to hold some level of employment, the department noted. It concluded, “The failure of the project is a risk that is borne primarily by Energy Fuels Resources Corp. and the potential benefits of the project appear to outweigh the costs across all segments of the larger community.”

If built, the mill would be the first uranium mill to be constructed in the United States in three decades. The last mill, White Mesa in Blanding, Utah, is owned by Energy Fuels, which obtained it in a merger with Denison Mines Corp. last year.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

Energy Fuels Inc. is fulfilling contracts for uranium at well above the current spot price, but it’s waiting with the rest of the industry to see that price nearly double before investing in new projects. “Right now, we’re trying to hunker down a little bit and watch our pennies,” Curtis Moore, director of communications and legal affairs for Energy Fuels, said Wednesday.

Energy Fuels is fulfilling contracts with utilities for about $56 a pound, well over the current spot price of $40.90 a pound, according to “We’re pretty well shielded from spot prices” with the company’s contracts, Moore told the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce energy briefing.

While the company is pursuing construction of the Pinyon Ridge uranium mill near Naturita, the price of uranium will likely have to clear the $70-per-pound threshold before construction begins, Moore said. That’s also the marker for reopening the eight mines the company owns on the Colorado Plateau, he said. That could take some time. “We see spot prices in the high 40s by the end of the year,” Moore said.

Once demand for uranium heats up, Energy Fuels will need the Pinyon Ridge mill when the company’s White Mesa mill in Blanding, Utah, can no longer keep up with demand, he said.

A decision is due this week from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment on Energy Fuels’ application for a radioactive materials-handling permit for Pinyon Ridge. A Denver district judge had invalidated the permit and ordered the Department of Public Health and Environment to reconsider it after seeking public comment and a recommendation from an administrative law judge. Energy Fuels is anticipating additional legal opposition to the Pinyon Ridge mill, Moore said.

It will cost about $150 million to construct the mill, he said.

Energy Fuels, which now bills itself as “America’s leading producer of conventional uranium,” now supplies about 1 million pounds of uranium oxide per year to utilities, or about a quarter of the 4 million pounds of domestic uranium used in the nation. In all, the United States uses about 50 million pounds of uranium per year to generate 20 percent of its electricity.

More Piñon Ridge uranium mill coverage here and here.

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