June 26, 2008
Uranium Mill Signs on for Site in Emery
By Judy Fahys, The Salt Lake Tribune
Jun. 26--Emery County is revisiting an old theme in search of new prosperity.
Hoping to ride the latest energy bubble -- in uranium -- county officials have signed an agreement with a Canadian company to build a $100 million uranium mill just west of Green River.
The mill would be the first tenant in a new industrial park made possible through a lease of 2,547 acres west of Green River with the Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration.
Stephen Glass, vice president of environmental affairs for Mancos Resources Inc., the U.S. subsidiary of British Columbia-based Blue Rock Resources Ltd., said the $100 million mill would be modern, green and provide good jobs. It will produce yellowcake uranium to fill a growing shortfall of nuclear reactor fuel, Glass said.
"If today it isn't a bottleneck," he said of the uranium market, "in five years it will be."
The company is the first to sign an agreement with Emery County to buy a parcel within the industrial park, which includes the trust lands and about 800 acres of private land.
Emery County Commissioner Gary Kofford said businesses have asked about large parcels around Green River -- a great location because of its affordability and proximity to Interstate 70 and rail service.
"It's just a long-term economic development process, trying to stimulate the creation of jobs," he said.
And, even though the energy industry has had a history of boom and bust in central Utah, he sees the new industrial park, with a core of energy industry tenants, as part of an effort to diversify the local economy.
"I think it fits in with what we are."
Other possible tenants include a proposed nuclear reactor or coal-fired power plant, said Kofford.
Many are looking for a revival of the boom that made the Four Corners the nation's uranium capital from 1955 to 1985.
Meanwhile, Mancos has been expanding its holdings in the area as uranium prices have risen in recent years. The Green River mill would process about 1,200 tons of ore each day and produce about 2.4 tons of yellowcake.
North America has just two uranium mills, one about 130 miles away in Blanding. That mill starved for uranium for more than a decade before being revived by higher uranium prices in the past few years.
The Green River mill is planned for a parcel about five miles north of the industrial park that is screened from the highways by hills, said Glass. It is proposed for a geologic area that will help protect the groundwater from contamination.
His company has presented its plans to the state Radiation Control Board. The mill requires approval by the state engineer, the Radiation Control Division and the Air Quality Division.
Sarah Fields, program director for the Moab-based advocacy group Uranium Watch, said Green River and Grand County residents have concerns. The mill will generate air pollution and will put agricultural lands at risk, she said.
"A uranium mill will have a negative impact on the economics of Green River," she said, noting the area's dependence on agriculture and recreation.
More than $1 billion has been spent in southern Utah over the past two decades to clean up the uranium processing plants in southeastern Utah. The cleanup of the Atlas Corp. tailings near Moab, now under way, is expected to cost more than $800 million.
Emery County's role in the mill
--Emery County will oversee development of an industrial park on 3,300 acres of land owned by
the Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration.
--The county will pay rent of $10,000 a year for the property and will retain 10 percent of the purchase price of each lot it sells.
--The first tenant, a new uranium-processing plant, would process 1,200 tons of ore each day. It will rent until it secures necessary permits.
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