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Mark Iverson, Paradox Valley, Colorado, proposed site of mothballed Piñon Canyon Uranium Mill, 2008, Wikimedia Commons

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Defeated Piñon Ridge Uranium Mill

In the mid 2000s, anticipating an increased demand for uranium for commercial nuclear power, Colorado-based Energy Fuels Resources Corp. acquired about 1,000 acres of land near the mining town of Naturita. Although Energy Fuels first hoped for an operational mine in 2010, the permitting process dragged on for years. The company applied for a radioactive materials license from the Colorado Department of Health and the Environment (CDPHE) in 2009, which was opposed by the rapidly growing tourism industry and environmental groups, including Information Network for Responsible MiningWestern Mining Action ProjectSheep Mountain Alliance, Advocacy Coalition of Telluride, Saving Paradox, and the Paradox Valley Sustainability Association. Legal challenges mounted, delaying the acquisition of permits, while uranium ore prices plummeted (contrary to a previously anticipated surge in uranium exploration) following world events such as the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. By the time a second materials license was granted in 2014, the company no longer had the need for the project nor the funds to build it, as it had purchased the White Mesa Mill in nearby Utah. Energy Fuels sold the property and the materials license for the proposed uranium mill to a private investor group (led by Baobab Asset Management and former Energy Fuels president George Glasier) in 2014 for a net gain of $1.5 million plus expenses. 

The Department of Energy (DOE) program to mine uranium in the Paradox Valley area had been put on hold in 2011, when a court injunction required an additional environmental review on potential impacts to fish. To comply with the court order, DOE included Piñon Ridge’s potential water use in a revised biological report to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Separately, however, in April 2018, the CDPHE revoked the mill’s radioactive materials permit after a District Court judge concluded that the proposed mill project failed to demonstrate adequate environmental protections. The company has not appealed the ruling, effectively ending the project despite the larger injunction against mining operations being lifted in 2019.

Sources

McRann, Collin. "Energy Fuels Sells Piñon Ridge License." Telluride Daily Planet, May 13, 2015 [last updated]. Accessed July 31, 2020.

Mimiaga, Jim. "Judge Lifts Injunction on Uranium Mining in Paradox Valley." The Durango Herald, May 7, 2019 [last updated]. https://durangoherald.com/articles/275661. Accessed August 7, 2020.

Tisdel Wright, Samantha. "Judge Greenlights Renewed Uranium Mining in West End." Telluride Daily Planet, June 2, 2019. https://www.telluridenews.com/news/article_740b88b0-83fb-11e9-a989-3f550b6d148e.html. Accessed August 7, 2020.

WISE Uranium Projects. "New Uranium Mining Projects - Colorado, USA." August 1, 2020 [last updated]. Accessed August 7, 2020.
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