Licensing hiccup for US uranium mill

18 June 2012

A US district court judge has rejected most of the legal challenges against the radioactive materials licence for Energy Fuels' planned Pinon Ridge uranium mill, but has ruled that the licence must be set aside pending a public hearing.

Pinon Ridge (Energy Fuels)_200
Pinon Ridge (Image: Energy Fuels)

Pinon Ridge would be the first new conventional uranium mill to be built in the USA in over three decades. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) approved the radioactive materials licence for the mill in January 2011, but its ruling was challenged by environmental campaign group the Sheep Mountain Alliance and representatives of the towns of Telluride and Ophir.

Judge John McMullen of Denver District Court ruled partially in favour of the plaintiffs in only one of eleven substantive environmental, health, and safety claims. The court rejected the all of the other ten claims in their entirety, holding that CDPHE and Energy Fuels had complied with statutory and regulatory requirements regarding financial assurance, decommissioning, and air and groundwater standards.

Nevertheless, the court ruled that the CDPHE had not provided sufficient opportunities for public hearing and argument, and has required the CDPHE to conduct a public hearing, including the opportunity for cross-examination of witnesses. The public hearing must take place within 75 days of 5 July, and the current licence will be set aside pending the meeting's outcome.

Energy Fuels president and CEO Stephen Antony said the company was generally pleased with the outcome of the court decision. "The decision by Judge McMullen rejected every one of plaintiff’s claims suggesting that our licence somehow failed to fully protect public health and the environment on the West Slope. Based on the court’s decision, we are confident that after this procedural issue is resolved, the license will be reissued," he said.

In a statement on the ruling, the CDHPE pointed out that the court's only ruling against the department was based on a conflict in the Colorado Radiation Control Act and state radiation regulations. The CDHPE said it is reviewing the court's ruling, noting that the court had "rejected all arguments about how to reconcile the conflict and instead fashioned its own remedy."

Richard Webster of public interest law firm Public Justice, representing the townships of Telluride and Ophir, hailed the outcome as "a clear victory" for public participation, health and the environment "because we know that public participation improves the quality of licensing decisions."

Current Energy Fuels plans for Pinon Ridge envisage construction beginning in late 2012 or 2013.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News

Filed under: Mine licensing, USA