Plans for a new uranium mill in Utah announced
Fierce opposition to the project is likely.
Canada-based Western Vanadium & Uranium announced in a news release that it plans to build a “state-of-the-art” uranium, vanadium and cobalt mill in Utah to process ore “mined both from mines owned by Western and ore produced by other miners.” The announcement does not specify where in Utah the company plans to build the facility, only that it took two years to select and acquire the site, which was chosen “based on the support of local municipal and county officials.” While George Glasier, the company’s CEO, wouldn’t return our calls asking about the specific location, he told the Salt Lake Tribune it is planned for just outside Green River, Utah, near the site of a now defunct nuclear power plant proposal. It’s another twist in the weird Western politics surrounding uranium mills.
If this mill is ultimately permitted and built, it would be only the second operating uranium processing plant in the nation (in addition to the White Mesa Mill near Blanding, Utah, owned by Energy Fuels). But that’s a big “if,” as Glasier is well aware.
Glasier was the President and CEO of Energy Fuels in the 2000s. At the time, another Canadian company, Denison, owned the White Mesa Mill. But they weren’t too keen on processing ore from Energy Fuels’ mines. So, Glasier and Energy Fuels proposed building their own mill, the Piñon Ridge, in the Paradox Valley in Montrose County, Colorado. Glasier spearheaded the mill planning and permitting process up until his resignation in 2010.
Colorado regulators permitted the mill in 2011. Environmental groups sued. And as the legal process played out, a bunch of shuffling was going on: Energy Fuels bought out Denison and the White Mesa Mill, meaning they no longer needed the proposed Piñon Ridge Mill. Glasier started the Piñon Ridge Mining company, which purchased the mill license and various mining properties from Energy Fuels. And Western Uranium and Vanadium purchased Glasier’s company — and the Piñon Ridge permit — and installed him as CEO. Finally, in 2018 — more than a decade after the process began — a judge ruled the Piñon Ridge permit had been issued in error and the state rescinded it. The proposal was dead. (Uranium prices were so low by then it’s doubtful the thing would have been built anyway.)
Glasier, however, didn’t give up on uranium, instead working to keep the long-idled Sunday Mine Complex in the Big Gypsum Valley near Slickrock, Colorado, from being put into reclamation status. With uranium prices shooting back up, Glasier and Western Uranium say they are preparing the Sunday Complex to produce ore beginning as early as next month.
But ore isn’t worth much until it’s milled. Although the White Mesa Mill has plenty of capacity (they’ve mostly been processing other companies’ waste) and the owners of the Shootaring Mill near the Henry Mountains say they want to get it up and running, Glasier and company apparently think yet another mill is necessary. One unique feature it would have is the ability to recover cobalt, a key component of electric vehicle batteries.
Western Uranium’s news release says permitting for the proposed mill has already begun. Even if that’s true, it will take years for it to wend its way through the process. Perhaps Utah regulators will be more amenable to a radioactive material processing plant than Colorado was with Piñon Ridge. But this time there’s likely to be even fiercer opposition from Indigenous and environmental advocates. And, as Sarah Fields of Uranium Watch points out: They’re going to need water to mill uranium and it’s in short supply these days.
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