Colorado Uranium Mill Proposal Could Be the Center of the Nuclear Future and National Debate

December 30 2010, 9:38 AM

A proposal for a new uranium mill in Naturita could trigger a mining boom throughout our state and Utah, raising concerns over "jobs, health, class-consciousness, and historical memory"—but it could also provoke a bitter national debate. That's according to The New York Times (free registration required), which visited the small town in a "depressed corner" of Colorado, near the center of the nation's new push for nuclear power, seen by some as a way to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions and pollution and by others as a pathway toward a new slew of environmental problems. 

In Naturita, some disagree not just about the mill but also whether uranium, which was created about 100 million years ago by volcanic activity, is a curse. The region has already endured a mining rush for vanadium, which began in the 1930s, and a previous uranium boom for bomb-making materials. But mills fell silent a generation ago, as the Cold War ended. Opponents claim those who fondly recall the region's good old days are suffering "willful forgetfulness" about cancer deaths and environmental nightmares. "Our opposition to this proposal is based on the performance of historic uranium mining, because that's all we have to go on—and that record is not good," Craig Pirazzi, a member of the Paradox Valley Sustainability Association, which opposes the mill, tells the Times.

Supporters, meanwhile, accuse opponents of being fearful and ignorant. If a license is granted to Energy Fuels Inc. for the proposed processing facility, project leaders would look to China, South Korea, and other Asian powers to help finance the $140 million necessary, according to The Denver Post. That's because the U.S. Congress and utilities have failed to pursue nuclear-energy alternatives, says 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."