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Pinon Ridge Uranium Mill, one step closer to special use permit

The proposed location for the Pinon Ridge Mill Photo

Last week the West End Advisory Committee, as appointed by the Montrose County Commissioners, approved a recommendation to issue the special use permit for the Canadian company, Energy Fuels’, Pinon Ridge Uranium Mill in Paradox Valley of Southwestern Colorado.

The Montrose County Planning Commission then voted to approve the permit at the same meeting.  The Montrose County Commissioners are next; the ultimate decision lies with them.  But with such support and recommendation already voiced, it is expected they will issue the permit unanimously.

The mill will be located in the heart of Paradox valley, near a number of organic farms that have sprung up over the last decade.  The shadow of the mill already threatens to destroy local farming businesses, and decrease property value, but the lure of employment in the Nucla and Naturita townships is overwhelming.

At the Montrose Planning Department meeting last week, held in the Nucla high school gymnasium, about 300 people showed up to voice their opinions about the uranium mill.  Nucla residents held hand written signs, with which they fanned themselves, stating simply “We support local jobs.”

People drove in from Moab and Telluride to oppose the mill, a project they feel represents an out-of-date choice for future energy and employment needs.

There was much discussion.  Those wishing to state their opinion for or against the mill were given the opportunity to sign in, and approach the microphone, after a brief presentation by Energy Fuels.

Although more people spoke publicly against the mill, the majority of those in attendance (Nucla and Naturita residents) supported the mill.  This was expressed in the applause they gave to proponents of the mill and the jeers they gave to the opponents.

Concerns ranged from waste disposal, fugitive dust blowing over the resort communities of Telluride and Mountain Village, water usage, increased mining, falling property values, and displacement of alternative industries suited for Paradox valley, such as concentrated solar power and organic farming.

But the promise of jobs had infected the room.  Nothing could stop the impression that the mill meant work and money for the region.  The fact that the last forty years of milling and mining uranium have left the communities of Nucla and Naturita impoverished, and actually destroyed the old milling community of Uravan, seemed to escape those assembled, as they looked back to the past with a fondness for what is familiar.  And mining and milling uranium seems part of the identity of these towns.  It’s not one they want to give up.

George Glasier, President of Energy Fuels, has promised 72 jobs at the mill.  Of those, the majority will be to locals, he says.  And yet there are only 35 parking spaces in the mill plans, and one would expect some of these jobs will require a college degree.  That already cuts most of the local workforce out of the equation.  But the vision of wealth filled the room like the smell of a plastic tent.

One thing’s for sure:  Montrose County stands to make a windfall in taxes over the 40 years the mill will be operational.  At the targeted uranium value of $59 per pound, annual revenues from the mill are expected to exceed $330,078,000.00.  Over 40 years, and you get the picture.  Uranium is currently selling at $49 per pound after an up and down year.  As China and India increase their demand, though, prices are expected to rise.

But most of the money made by the mill will follow the yellow cake right out of the state.  And while the County could use these uranium dollars to pucker up failing roads and infrastructure, the true cost of the milling operations persist long into the future.  Longer than anyone can understand.  The true cost, over time, approaches infinity.  (The half life of uranium is 4.5 billion years.  That means in the amount of time the earth has existed, only half of a pound of uranium would have turned to lead.  The valley where the ore is mined and will be milled has existed for less than 0.01% of this time frame!)

Other problems persist:  The mill will need to use more than 144 gallons of water every minute, 24 hours a day, seven days a week for forty years.  During a time when the Ogalla aquifer is expected to lose 20% of its water supply due to climate change, the Pinon Ridge Mill, as proposed, would use up a volume of clean water equivalent to around one-tenth of the water in lake Erie.  That’s a volume equivalent to more than one million Empire State buildings!  And this in an arid area of the four corners where water rights are already contentious.

Energy Fuels still needs to get a whole slew of other permits.  After the issuance of the special use permit come the air emissions permits, stormwater discharge permits, well permits and water rights, above ground storage tank permits, among others.  However, once the special use permit is in place, these all become possible, and, in fact, likely.  With one Federal Agency after another looking only at their small piece of the puzzle, after navigating no small amount of red tape, the outcome is predictable:  They’ll get their permits, and Energy Fuels will ramp up operations in rural Colorado.  They’ll mill uranium from US mines and sell it on the international market.  They’ll make their millions and leave Nucla and Naturita bust once again, with a fresh pile of tailings that will take billions of years to turn safe.

The valley will be ruined – mountain bikers, eco-tourists, farmers, all the growing industries that currently support the region, will vanish.

Worse, Paradox has an incredible number of unmapped petroglyphs – literally miles of them – that managed correctly could bring thousands of visitors a year.  

But, driven by greed, all this will be bulldozed as we go pin wheeling to the past.

More coverage:

Montrose Daily Press

Energy Fuels Website

Uranium, not carbon neutral


  • Alex 5 years ago

    Hmmm, pretty biased article if you ask me.
    If you've actually read (as I presume you have) Energy Fuels special use permit application which can be found here:
    You would actually know that there are TWO parking lots planned. One for the Administration Facility with 66 parking lots and one for the Mill Facility with 35 parking lots.
    Get your facts straight next time and try to be less biased and more focused on facts. The world is not bl

  • James 5 years ago

    "The valley will be ruined – mountain bikers, eco-tourists, farmers, all the growing industries that currently support the region, will vanish."

    Now that's professional journalism without a hint of bias.

  • Ben 5 years ago

    Thanks for the comments chaps! I'm not sure I agree that saying other eco-tourism industries will suffer is biased... if the mill is such an attractive prospect for the region, why have property values already tumbled in Paradox? Who would want to eat "organic" produce that's near a uranium mill? Whether it's safe or not, the perception alone is enough to thwart other economic development – development that would actually benefit more folks and offer more work. The bias you note seems to be in your own perception. You've already decided this is a good thing, when, simply put, it is not. Already 40 years of mining uranium have left Nucla and Naturita economically repressed, and actually destroyed the town of Uravan. How can we repeat the same mistakes in the name of 'science' and 'industry'? There is very little 'new' technology in this mill that a prudent millwright wouldn't have used 50 years ago. But, I guess, science is happiest when it learns from its mistakes.

  • McKenna 4 years ago

    my name is McKenna, this is my opinion, i am a 8th grader from Telluride Middle School, we are doing projects on Mines in our Area, including The Pinon Ridge Uranium Mill in Paradox Valley.
    I really hope you take your time to read this, i would appreciate it if you did. I thought i would let you know what i think. This is my essay for Language Arts and i hope you like it. It is staged like a debate.

    Don’t waste, bottom line is, don’t do it. We will waste by doing just about everything we do during our lives. There are three things we really cannot waste, and by building the Pinon Ridge Uranium Mill in Paradox Valley, we will risk wasting gallons of water, people’s good health, and the one thing the world revolves around, money.
    The proposed Pinon Ridge Uranium Mill is more concerned about making money, rather than people’s health. The number one reason for the Uranium Mill not to be built is the matter of being sick, not just coughing on another person, but working or even living near a mine, this can be so fatal. Imagine going through every day, not knowing which would be your last. Imagine being sick, not just with the flu, but with something that you cannot recover from; terminal Lung cancer, your hair and teeth falling out, tumors growing all over your body. You are in trouble, but no doctor can diagnose you with anything, but you know in your heart that with very breath of contaminated air you take, your condition worsens. The radon gas surrounds your house, and creeps in through the walls, windows and doorways. You can’t run or hide; it is everywhere. The yellowcake piles next to your farm and your animals get sick and die. Yellowcake is the form of enriched uranium that contains 70-90 percent ammonia and trioxide. Two things that can kill you. Can you imagine living like this? Many people do, 1 out of 4 Americans live and average of 4 miles from a superfund site. A superfund site is a place where uranium mill used to be, and has contaminated the air, water and ground. Living this close to a site can cause many different kinds of sicknesses, and the radon from the uranium is the first leading cause in lug cancer in non-smokers. After a while, the uranium disinagrates into radium, which isn’t bad, but the radium breaks down into Radon, you cant see it, smell it, taste it or even know its around you at all. The radon gas creeps into your lungs and infects them, causing a terrible lung cancer. Lung cancer isn’t the only thing you can get from Radon gas, other health problems such as chromosomal aberrations, leukemia, pulmonary fibrosis, nonmalignant respiratory disease, contemporary Saskatchewan disease, and many types of cancer. The proposed Pinon Ridge Uranium mill In paradox Valley is an 880-acre of land. What is supposed to be built on it? A mine that can and will kill people.
    Think about what happened at Chernobyl; think about what is happening now. The oil spill killing by the day, Chernobyl killing by the minute; these were both disasters. Would you want this to happen again, maybe even worse, possibly killing or contaminating more people. Some people may argue that the only time people can get sick from the toxins, are when the dust picks up, or a pond leaks; but this is only the beginning. Warren Smith from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment Radiation Program argues that, “Colorado’s requirements for uranium recovery are specifically designed to avoid the mistakes of the past.” He may say that but I will argue that 18 out of the 20 mills last opened in the U.S. leaked or have gotten people sick from the fumes. The CDPH & ERP say that they will not only have leak proof liners, but a system of monitoring the ore, and making sure nothing goes wrong. But I would like to pose a threat, I concede with the argument of if the tailings ponds leak they will get absorbed by the salt dome, but overflow is a whole new problem. Has anyone though what would happen if the ponds overflowed? I will tell you, the ponds would overflow, contaminate the ground water, seep into the earth, and get more people sick. If there was enough water, it could eventually travel all the way into Paradox Valley, and contaminate crops, and valuable water. As you can see, by building the proposed mill, we will face many problems, including health.
    Water, it is one of the most valued things in the world, but it cannot be wasted, by building The Pinon Ridge Uranium Mill, we will waste more than 7 billion gallons of water in its life-span. Did you know that drinking water could kill you? Here is how, firstly that water has been contaminated from a nearby source, like a uranium mill, then it goes into the river or stream where you get your water, then it gets filtered, and comes right to your faucet. What you don’t know is that by lifting that glass up to your lips, and taking a long sip to rehydrate, you can be killing yourself. Some people in the United States are drinking water with 20 parts per billion of uranium, when 7ppb causes kidney failure. Think about the glass of water again, drinking a couple sips can cause kidney failure. The second after you take that sip, you could be gone. One of the most important reasons why the Mill should not be built is because there is not enough water for the mine, and for the people who live around it to have a healthy life. Imagine your faucet when it leaks, a tiny drop of water coming out, now imagine a pond if it leaks into the ground, just like the drip, drip, drip of your faucet, only bigger. Now imagine the water in that pond has a big leak, water rushing under the ground, like a faucet on full blast. What happens if this water is contaminated? If the ground water gets contaminated there is no turning back. If the proposed mill gets built, it will use 150 gallons of water per minute, as it progresses it will use 300gallons per minute. One gallon of water can make the biggest difference, a child in Africa could savor that water for weeks, but the Pinon Ridge Mill will waste that gallon in about 5 seconds flat, for 50 years. The mill would be using 157,680,000 gallons of water per year. Paradox Valley is mostly desert; where is all that water going to come from when this place is so dry? The proposed amount of years the mill is supposed to be open is 50, that doesn’t seem very long, but when you think about it, more than 7 billion gallons of water has been wasted. Supposedly the water is going to be used, recycled and put back into the ecosystem to stay, but if there is the slightest bit of contamination in the water, the whole Delores River can be ruined. A hard fact on how we will not have enough water to share is this; The Rossing Uranium mine in Namibia uses a much water as 434,000,000 of your average household swimming pools. This fact is from the Rossing Uranium limited 2009 annual report on the mine. This mine is in the desert of Southern Africa, where water is very scarce. The Pinon Ridge Mill isn’t built yet, but if a mine in Africa is using this much water, where it is not available, imagine the amount we will need to obtain to meet the mine’s needs.

    The CDPH and ERP say that the water being wasted from the uranium mill can naturally recycle itself and eventually become not contaminated anymore. I say that they are wrong. The water can never be really clean ever again. Other companies may argue that the people of Nucla and Naturita don’t care if they use that much water. I think that the citizens of the two places don’t mind a bit, until you realize how much water they are actually using. The farmers in this area are going to have a major problem because the water levels will drop causing farmers who live of there food and who live off selling there food, will not be able to do that anymore. This mill will waste more than water, it will waste more than water, and it will waste people’s lives.
    Lastly, the proposed mill will waste probably the most important thing in our culture right now, money. Did you know that when you mine uranium only 1percent of the ore you take out could actually be formed into yellowcake? Did you know that it cost more than 1 billion dollars to clean up this process? Mining Uranium is one of the worst things you can do to the environment, and to our pockets. Did you know that the money used to clean up this mill is coming from your pocket, coming from your wallet; not from the government, right out of that little slip where you keep your money.
    The company who is trying to open this mine/mill is going to give 12 million dollars to the cleanup process. Too bad it cost an average of 50-504million dollars to cleanup the tailings, and that doesn’t even count when you put the land through reclamation. Also the company, who wants the mine, claims that they are giving 12 million dollars to the cleanup process, even though the state regulates that the company pays 12 million towards cleanup. The 12 million supposedly goes towards if there is a spill, or a problem and there is nothing the company can do because it is either bankrupt, or just doesn’t want to pay the money. The money is supposed to be a gift for people to think that the mine is good, but really they are luring them in to thinking they are good. The mine is trying to convince people that they are good, by using money as the object.