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Hot Air from Pinon Ridge:Can a representative wind study really be performed at

It’s funny. In order to garner representative wind data if, say, you were seeking financing for a new wind farm, at least a year’s worth of data needs to be recorded at 30M, or 100 feet. This ensures data is representative. No banker is going to give you money for a wind farm if you hand her a file of data from an anemometer at 25 feet.

So shy wouldn’t similar stringencies govern a wind study detailing the potential fall out of radioactive dust particles (the so called “fugitive dust”) from a proposed uranium mill? And what government agency would, in their right mind, use such unscientific data to approve a milling facility?

The Radioactive Materials Licensing Department of the Colorado Division of Public Health and the Environment. That’s who.

Energy Fuels, the wholly owned subsidiary of a Canadian minerals extraction company, provided data from two “weather stations” on their 880 acre property where, in about nine months, they are expected to break ground on their proposed Pinon Ridge uranium mill. I’ve only seen one anemometer down there. It was installed next to a trailer (another no-no) and appeared to be at most 30 feet (and by other estimates only 25 feet) off the ground.

When measuring airflows it’s important to consider a number of variables. First is the shear component, or a factor of ground cover and friction from surrounding structures that affect data recorded. Energy Fuel’s anemometer violated this simple premise when they attached their anemometer to a trailer (turbulence and inconsistent wind flows). Installing the apparatus at only 25 feet also fails to catch prevailing wind, and instead records only inconstant gusts. Gauging accurate wind direction, speed, and kinetic energy becomes impossible.

I was presented with a small paragraph – part of the Environmental Assessment authored by “scientists” employed by Energy Fuels – by a CBS reporter from channel 4 in Denver. There was no real data that I could see. Instead, the paragraph (which may have been a summary, or conclusion) seemed to rely on the Ethos of the “experts” who presented the data. That was the wording. Nothing about actual facts and figures, numbers and measurements (you know, real, hard data). Just “we’re experts”, so rely on us.

That’s great. If you walked into a bank and said, “I want millions of dollars to build a wind farm, I’m an expert. We’ve got wind.” You’d be in for a rude awakening. And deservedly so: who wants to risk losing millions of dollars on the basis of a self-proclaimed reputation? No, you need to provide data, a budget, a business plan, etc. Only an idiot would fund a project based on such tenuous self-aggrandizement. So why should the Pinon Ridge mill be any different? Especially when we’re talking about the fallout of potentially radioactive materials from a milling facility which, aside from raising cancer rates, may have huge impacts on tourism, farming, housing values, and civilian populations downwind.

Energy Fuels says there will be no fugitive dust from the site. None. Zero. Zip. But this is insane. Of course there will be some effluents from the property. I mean, you have to heat the ore to 185 F during the leaching process with steam. Surely there’s a pressure valve in there somewhere? And what about all the concentrated sulfuric acid required, and the effluents from that and other caustic chemicals (ammonium sulfate, sodium chlorate to name but two)? Have you ever smelled sulfur? It stinks. And chlorine is just plain awful.

How can anyone say, “there will be no dust from the mill”? It’s like proclaiming I’m 100% certain it will rain on Tuesday in Nevada.” Most people will accept a small amount, a sort of one-in-a-million deaths increase, much like Federal water quality standards. Simply denying the fact is a massive red flag.

But there’s more. Where is the detailed plume analysis? Where are the Aeolian flow tables showing tracked particles, origins and depositions? Where are the meters-per-second, the watts per square-meter? In fact, where are the numbers, period? Where are the figures recorded, and the weather stations listed?

This, like much of the presented data, illustrates the experimental bias inherent in this application process. Not only are the public given perhaps 30 days to read an enormous report before being able to submit their last comments (and thus are restricted to framing their concerns along fractured emotional divisions within the community rather than say anything informed and relevant), but the very scientists who drew much of the $25 million from Energy Fuels have the incentive to find only favorable data. There’s no third-party, independent review of the application until after the mill is operational. As Steve Tarlton, the Unit Leader of the Radioactive Materials Licensing Department, said to me, “Ben, we’re bureaucrats. We just check boxes.” He said that if the application appears to be complete, they are mandated along certain timelines to approve, approve with amendments, or deny the application. It’s not their job to enforce the provisions, he said, or verify the data. He admitted it was difficult even for them to read the application in the year they’re given under law. And he sympathized.

“What you’re suggesting requires a legislative change.”

Great. Private companies looking to finance wind farms to turn a buck out of a turbine or two, are incentivized to require representative data to protect their investment. Our government – our representatives who are charged on our behalf to enforce the public good – on the other hand, don’t really care. Their investment isn’t in us, and I wonder if we should invest our confidence in them. At all.

What’s really at stake here? It’s not the billions of dollars a Canadian company is going to make. Nor the unsustainable economy the mill promises for the area. (Three generations of uranium miners later, and Nucla is still a ghost town.) It’s the billions of dollars the tax payer will assume in treating the externalities of this mill (radioactive fallout being but one) and the billions again we’ll pay for managing the tailings ponds into perpetuity.

Not to mention all the farmers whose products will be unsellable at market, simply because they were grown near a uranium mill. Rather than build new visions into a sustainable future, where the local economy can sustain itself, Energy Fuels is manufacturing a highway into the past. History doesn’t repeat itself. Humankind repeats history. How many times must we repeat the same outdated ideology before we learn, yeah, that doesn’t really work for the people. (As if the Cotter Corp. Mill in Canyon City, CO, isn’t an ever present reminder….)

A fair shake, for sure.


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