There are ample reasons to reject permit for new Montrose County
By Guest Columnist
Sunday, January 2, 2011
By Marv Ballantyne
In Montrose County, you don’t need a Geiger counter to
find the toxic legacy left by uranium mills.
Just look for the bright yellow signs surrounding the former
Uravan Mill site, warning that the area contains radioactive
materials. There’s also the hillside where an entire
town was razed so contamination could be cleaned up.
I’ve driven by that site many times in the 30 years I’ve
lived and worked in Montrose County. The Uravan site is not
alone. The toxic legacy of uranium mills lingers at many
scattered across Colorado. At most former uranium mill locations,
groundwater is so contaminated it may be decades before water
quality returns to normal.
As Colorado continues to grapple with that legacy, a new
mill is proposed for a yet-unspoiled spot in Montrose County.
proposed Piñon Ridge Mill has many on the Western
Slope wondering whether Colorado is doomed to repeat the
of the past.
If built, the Piñon Ridge Mill will bathe more than 500
tons of finely pulverized uranium ore each day with a cocktail
of sulfuric acid and other chemicals to produce unrefined “yellowcake” that
eventually would fuel nuclear reactors.
The result will be a few pounds of yellowcake that will most
likely go to Asian countries, developers of the new mill
said in recent story in The Denver Post. What we’ll be left
with is hundreds of tons of radioactive waste permanently stored
directly over groundwater that feeds the Dolores River. Famous
among river runners, the Dolores feeds the Colorado River — a
crucial water source for Americans in Arizona, Nevada and
Energy Fuels Inc., the Canadian company proposing the mill,
promises its operations at the mill won’t contaminate
our water and our landscapes. Colorado Department of Public
Environment regulators are charged with determining whether
the promises are hollow, or backed by data. Their decision
However, a report from Stratus Consulting raises serious
questions. That report reveals the company’s planned monitoring system
may not detect pollution until it’s too late. It also pointed
out that state regulators have recognized several problems with
the plans — problems Energy Fuels has yet to remedy.
The report also reveals serious trouble for taxpayers. The
consultants concluded that it would likely cost several tens
of dollars to clean up the mill once it is done operating — a
much higher figure than the $12 million that Energy Fuels
says it has to front. This is not an academic exercise. Since
early 1980s, taxpayers have spent about $950 million to clean
up contaminated uranium mills in Colorado alone.
That isn’t the only report that reveals problems with
the mill. Another one indicated plans for the proposed uranium
fail to meet state standards to confine the toxic waste generated
at the mill.
Furthermore, the Environmental Protection Agency points out
the large-scale regional impacts that could come from the
include the possibility that wind and water will disperse
radioactive waste, potentially reaching drinking water sources.
waste would also release radon, a radioactive gas that causes
lung cancer and can affect the health of people more than
50 miles away, according to the EPA.
It’s true the mill could bring a small surge of economic
activity to local small towns.
But haven’t we learned from the boom-bust cycles of the
past? Since the early-1980s — when the local uranium industry
went “bust” — this community has seen gradual
growth in the businesses of agriculture, tourism, hunting,
camping, rock climbing, rafting and associated outdoor activities.
market for second homes and retirement homes in nearby Telluride
and Montrose has also developed.
Indeed, a report recently released shows those important
economic activities created a significant amount of jobs
when the uranium
industry died in the early 1980s, and they could suffer if
the new mill is built.
The potential for more growth from those economic activities
is excellent if we don’t “kill the goose that lays
the golden egg.” That is, as long as we protect the
natural beauty, clean air, water and friendly community that
Given the state’s long legacy of uranium mill contamination,
the taxpayer-funded cleanups and the questions surrounding the
ability of this Canadian company to prevent the contamination
of the past, I believe the mill would inflict immensely more
economic damage than it’s worth.
And I don’t need a Geiger counter to know that.
Marv Ballantyne is a retired real estate appraiser in Montrose.
He is a board member and past president of Western Colorado