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New uranium processing site OK'd in Colorado

After more than a year of debate, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has given its blessing to a yellowcake uranium mill in the southwestern part of the state. (More on uranium, uranium mining, and how it's turned into nuclear energy here.) The Piñon Ridge Uranium Mill will be the first new uranium mill operating in the U.S. in more than 25 years, processing uranium ore and opening mines closed decades ago.

The Denver Post recently came out in favor of Piñon Ridge, arguing:

"If uranium milling were to return to the region that once supplied material to the Manhattan Project, the national Cold War arsenal, and later the country's first steps in nuclear power, it could be an economic boon. And because we support an expansion of nuclear power generation, which produces abundant electricity without greenhouse gases, a resurgent domestic market would also be a welcome benefit."

"Energy Fuels estimates that the mill would employ 85 people with jobs paying between $45,000 and $70,000. Hundreds of additional jobs would return to nearby mines. The Montrose Economic Development Corp. estimates that the total economic impact to the region -- in direct and indirect employment -- would be nearly $50 million a year."

New York Times reporter Kirk Johnson visited Naturita, Colorado, a community near the future home of the Piñon Ridge mill. In a blog post he writes:

"Many environmentalists, though certainly not all, still contend that uranium's legacy of radioactive waste - mainly from nuclear bomb making and electricity production in commercial reactors - make it unwelcome in the world's energy future, even given the threat of global warming and the growing pressure to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

But in western Colorado, where I went recently to report a story about what could be the first new mill for processing uranium ore in the United States in more than 25 years, called Piñon Ridge, many residents said that uranium is essentially a victim of prejudice and emotional fears run amok."

But, the new mill does not signal a nuclear-energy resurgence in the U.S. Most of the uranium produced at the Piñon Ridge facility will be shipped to Korea, China and other Asian countries.
From the Denver Post:

"That's where Energy Fuels Inc. would seek financing for its proposed $140 million uranium-processing facility, officials said last week. And yellowcake uranium made in Colorado likely would be sent to fuel Asian power plants.

A lack of action by U.S. Congress and utilities to encourage nuclear energy alternatives "just about requires us to look overseas," said Gary Steele, Energy Fuels' vice president for investor relations. "You have to go where the market is. Just pick an Asian country. That's where all the action is now."

In fact, U.S. nuclear output fell this week, when a nuclear reactor in Florida was closed.

About the author

Adriene Hill is the senior multimedia reporter for LearningCurve.

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