Judge Scraps License for Colorado Uranium Mill

Published July 13, 2012

A state judge has struck down a license for a uranium mill issued by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. In his much-anticipated ruling, Denver District Judge John McMullen said CDPHE did not allow adequate public comment before issuing a license to Energy Fuels, Inc. to operate the mill in rural Paradox Valley to process uranium for use in nuclear power plants.

A Temporary Obstacle?

Judge McMullen’s ruling represents a procedural victory for environmental activist groups and the towns of Telluride and Ophir, which filed a lawsuit against CDPHE last year.

In addition to objecting to the way CDPHE handled the public comment period, the Sheep Mountain Alliance and other activist groups said the proposed mill will result in releases of radioactive material into the San Miguel and Dolores rivers.

CDPHE will now have to hold a public hearing on the license before it can render a final decision. As such, the judge’s decision may represent little more than a delay for the project.  

The Piñon Ridge Uranium Mill in Montrose County is slated to become the nation’s only conventional uranium mill. In May, Energy Fuels concluded a deal with Denison Mines Corp. to acquire its U.S. operations, including the White Mesa mill in southern Utah.  

A Testy Battle

The controversy surrounding the licensing of the mill has been punctuated by testy exchanges between CDPHE Executive Director Christopher Urbina and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) in Washington, DC.

In March the NRC sent a letter to the Sheep Mountain Alliance’s legal counsel saying it was proposing “corrective actions” to satisfy the requirement that a public hearing be held on Energy Fuels’ license application. Urbina responded, sending a letter to the NRC chastising it for inserting itself into the discussion and debate. In April, the NRC backed down, stating it would not intercede in the litigation and acknowledging it had no authority over the licensing of a uranium mill in Colorado. 

Mining Benefits Communities

“Laws and regulations already on the books ensure that mining is done in an environmentally benign manner,” said Jay Lehr, science director for The Heartland Institute, which publishes Environment & Climate News. “The environmental truth about mining is reassuring.”

“Mining is an important part of many local economies,” Lehr added. “It is no coincidence that the vast majority of citizens in mining regions support mining activities. Mining creates wealth, puts money in people’s pockets, and finances a broad array of public services like schools and health care.”

Bonner R. Cohen, Ph. D. ([email protected]) is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research.