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Colorado uranium mill approved

January 5, 2011 |  3:17 pm

  20060917-paradox-25lg

Colorado regulators on Wednesday approved the nation's first new uranium mill in more than 25 years, greenlighting construction of a new facility in the remote southwestern part of the state.

The state Department of Public Health and Environment gave a radioactive fuels license to Energy Fuels Resources Corp, a Canadian-based company that has long sought to open the mill near the small town of Naturita.

The mill is a sign of the uranium boom in the Four Corners region, as demand for the mineral has soared in the past decade. Only one mill in southeastern Utah currently processes uranium domestically, forcing many U.S. nuclear plants to import their fuel.

According to filings by Energy Fuels Resources, though, the yellowcake uranium at the new mill would predominantly be exported to Asian power plants.

The project is opposed by several environmental groups, which fear that radioactive tailings from the mill could contaminate the Colorado and Dolores rivers. They contend that tailings from old uranium claims still contaminate the Dolores. In the central part of the state, near Canon City, groundwater contamination persists from a now-shuttered uranium mill that was declared a Superfund site 25 years ago.

Colorado once had an active uranium industry in the sparsely-populated southwestern end of the state and elsewhere, but it collapsed in the 1970s. Locals in the Paradox Valley tend to back the project, while much of the opposition comes from areas like the ski town of Telluride, about 50 miles to the southeast.

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-- Nicholas Riccardi

Photo: The area in Colorado's Paradox Valley where the new mill will be constructed. Photo credit: Whit Richardson for Sheep Mountain Alliance

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