by Kevin Duggan,
Fort Collins Coloradoan
February 26, 2008
A proposal to mine uranium from beneath the prairie between Wellington and Nunn received a thumbs down Monday night from a Larimer County commissioner.
In response to comments from the 27 people who spoke on the proposal during a meeting, Commissioner Randy Eubanks said he plans to sponsor a resolution opposing uranium mining in the region. The resolution may be considered by the commissioners in a few weeks.
With the growing interest in renewable, clean energy in Northern Colorado, uranium mining and nuclear energy don't fit in, he said.
Eubanks, who worked for 13 years in the nuclear industry, said he was "disgusted" by efforts to "greenwash" the industry. His biggest concern is how to handle waste generated by nuclear power plants, Eubanks said following the 2½-hour meeting.
"I see this as a giant step backward into the past," Eubanks said.
Powertech (USA) has proposed an in-situ mining operation - a process that uses treated water to dissolve and extract uranium from sandstone deep beneath the surface - in Weld County west of Nunn as part of its Centennial Project.
The company, which owns mineral rights on 5,760 acres, expects to apply for permits from federal, state and county regulators for the project by the end of the year, project manager Terry Walsh said.
Although Larimer County will not be part of the permitting process, it will be able to submit comments to the regulatory bodies, Eubanks said.
Walsh said the demand for nuclear power is likely to grow in the United States, but most materials for nuclear fuel are imported. The Centennial Project will help alleviate dependence on imports.
It also will be done under strict state and federal regulations, he said.
But critics said the proposal carries too many uncertainties, particularly as to whether it could lead to contamination.
Paul Smith, a Fort Collins resident and nuclear physicist, said the in-situ process would use vast amounts of water and leave behind problems.
"There is nothing you can do to make it nondangerous," he said. "You cannot eliminate the radioactivity."
The proposed mine has been formally opposed by the town council of Timnath and the Fort Collins City Council. The state and Larimer County medical societies also have come out against the proposal.
Commissioners Kathay Rennels and Glenn Gibson said they have concerns about the project and will consider Eubanks' resolution. Rennels said the county has a responsibility to protect the health and safety of its residents.
Gibson said he is still studying the issue but is concerned about how the process would affect groundwater.