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Numerous articles, editorials, and letters to the editor are being published in local newspapers concerning uranium mining in northern Colorado. To view them, see the Reference page.
 
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Nuclear 'renaissance' stirs uranium pursuit Print

By Steve Porter
Northern Colorado Business Report
September 12, 2008

Northern Colorado has entered the crosshairs of the so-called "nuclear renaissance" in America, with at least two uranium exploration companies moving forward to locate and sell uranium to a world looking for a reliable energy source with a smaller climate impact.

U3O8 spot price ups and downs - After years of languishing at less than $20 per pound, the spot price of uranium oxide began to rise in 2005, hitting $36.25 by the end of the year. But the biggest volatility in price occurred last year, when the spot price went from $72 to almost $140 per pound last summer before ending the year at about $90.
"That's definitely the reason we're pursuing it," said Richard Clement, president of Powertech USA, which has been test drilling for uranium on 5,700 acres of leased land in western Weld County. "Now that there's been a (nuclear-power) resurgence, there's a significant increase in (uranium) demand."

 

Grand Junction-based Geovic Mining Corp. is also pursuing uranium, leasing mineral rights on thousands of acres near Keota in northeast Weld County. Company President William Buckovic did not return phone calls for comment for this story, but Andy Hoffman, Geovic's vice president of investor relations who refused to comment when reached by telephone, told the Business Report in April that Geovic planned to do extensive test drilling on its leased properties later this year.

"They are historical reserves, and I think our goal is to re-establish what's there," Hoffman said at the time. "I think it's a reasonable assumption that we'd like to do something, but first we need all the political approvals."

A recent check of Weld County records showed Geovic has not leased any more mineral rights in the Keota area since early April.

Back in the spotlight

Rising oil and gasoline prices, environmental concerns over burning fossil fuels and a desire for energy independence have put nuclear power back into the national spotlight.

Both presidential candidates Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama have expressed support for a role for nuclear power in the nation's energy future, and the Bush administration has been very supportive of awakening a slumbering nuclear industry.

Staggered by the reactor accident at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania in 1979 and the Soviet Union's power-plant meltdown in Chernobyl in 1986, the industry has grown only incrementally since 1978.

"The last time we received an application was 1978," said Scott Burnell, a spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. "In 2005 we were aware of interest in potentially submitting new applications. Companies began to come to us and said we're thinking about submitting an application."

That's when Congress was considering a new energy program for the nation, and the nuclear industry got a huge shot in the arm with passage of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which provided billions in taxpayer-funded research and development subsidies.

"One year after the act was signed, the Department of Energy reported there were 25 new nuclear reactors under consideration," Burnell said. "The vast majority of those came to us after passage of the act."

The nuclear industry has also benefited from the DOE's Nuclear Power 2010 Program unveiled in 2002 as a way to help speed the construction of new plants.

In July, DOE Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy Dennis Spurgeon addressed the "Second Annual Global Nuclear Renaissance Summit" in Alexandria, Va. Spurgeon noted that there are currently 104 reactors in America supplying 20 percent of the nation's total electricity - enough for 75 million homes.

"The tide of public opinion has started to swing back toward nuclear energy and as climate change grows in the public consciousness and our options are reassessed, debated and weighed in the court of public opinion, nuclear power has reentered the mainstream," Spurgeon said. "We are looking at a resurgence here in the United States and it is becoming more and more clear that nuclear power must play a significant role in our future energy mix."

Spurgeon said if the goal is for 35 percent of the nation's electricity needs to be produced by nuclear power by 2035, then the U.S. must build 95 new nuclear power plants - or an average of five new plants coming online each year - between 2016 and 2035.

A 50 percent electricity goal would require an additional 165 new plants in the same time period, he said.

Wrong approach?

But that is completely the wrong approach, say nuclear power opponents. In "The Nuclear Illusion," a paper written for the Swedish Academy of Sciences journal Ambio, Imran Sheikh and Amory Lovins, chief scientist at the Colorado-based Rocky Mountain Institute, contend that a return to nuclear power as a fundamental part of the nation's energy policy would be disastrous.

"Nuclear power is continuing its decades-long collapse in the global marketplace because it's grossly uncompetitive, unneeded and obsolete - so hopelessly uneconomic that one needn't debate whether it's clean and safe (because) it weakens electric reliability and national security and it worsens climate change compared with devoting the same money and time to more effective options," according to the report scheduled for publication in November.

Sheikh said the main problem with investing in nuclear power - beyond its enormous cost to build plants and long construction schedule - is that alternative energy sources such as wind, solar and hydro power all cost less to develop and are ultimately safer.

"We should be looking at alternative forms of energy that give us a bigger bang for the buck," he said. "When you look at how dollars are spent, nuclear is not the best choice."

Tyson Slocum, energy program director for Public Citizen, a Washington, D.C.-based watchdog group, said of the many issues that argue against a return to nuclear power the biggest is that the industry would be largely subsidized by the taxpayer.

"Nuclear power is always the most expensive energy source," he said. "The capital costs of setting them up are astronomical. You're looking at a per-unit (reactor) cost of about $10 billion."

Slocum said the West - including Colorado - is the new frontier for uranium companies scrambling to fill the needs of expected new nuclear plants in the United States and growing numbers of plants around the world.

"The push for uranium mining is directly related to the anticipation of the building of new nuclear power plants," he said.

And that, says Powertech's Clement, is exactly why his company is drilling in Weld County.

"If we didn't see the long-term potential of this we wouldn't be doing it, nor would any other companies," he said. "I'm very bullish on the future of nuclear energy."




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