BLM Utah State Office to review environmental assessment
Some of this content was also published in Fuel Cycle Week V8:N327 on 07/29/09 by International Nuclear Associates, Washington, DC
Two Utah environmental groups have temporarily gained the upper hand in a dispute over the quality of an environmental assessment [EA] for the Daneros Mine being developed by White Canyon Uranium (ASX:WCU), an Australian-based company. The Utah State Office of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has accepted requests from Uranium Watch and the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) to stay the issuance of the permit for mine operations while it reviews the environmental assessment for the project. (Photo SUWA)
The mine is the first underground uranium works to open in more than 30 years. White Canyon had expected to start operations this month, but the appeal pushes that date back by at least a month or more.
Cumulative impacts of historical uranium mining
Both groups filed multiple objections to the permit in the environmental assessment submitting 68 of the 72 comments received by BLM in the public comment process. Notably, both complained that the BLM only considered the site-specific impacts of the project and did not take into account cumulative impacts from decades of uranium mining in the Monticello District for federal lands in southern Utah.
The BLM District Office rejected that claim saying in its response to comments that new surface disturbances of land would be minor since the Daneros site an underground mine.
Sarah Field, the Director of Uranium Watch, based in Moab, UT, objected and said in an interview, "once uranium mining is over, the impacts last forever."
Liz Thomas, the attorney for SUWA who also filed objections, said in an interview the mine is adjacent to a wilderness study area and opening the mine for operations might jeopardize a future decision to set aside the nearby Upper Red Canyon and Red Rock Plateau (map) for that purpose. She said the EA "was inadequate" in its consideration of these types of impacts.
Marge Crandal, a spokesperson for the BLM State Office in Salt Lake City, told me the agency receives requests like the ones on the Daneros mine all the time, and that typically, the review process takes about 30 days.
This came as somewhat of a surprise to SUWA's Taylor who said that as she understood it there is no regulatory timetable for the review. She also characterized the appeal of the Daneros EA as a precedent since no new uranium mines have been proposed to be opened in Utah for nearly three decades.
EA unlikely to be overturned
In the past, Field of Uranium Watch says, BLM's reviews by the state office have not overturned the work of the District office if it followed procedure and was complete in documenting its responses to public comments. She acknowledged that her group raised complex issues that are unlikely to be tackled in an EA. The result, she said, is "that with some minor tweaking the permit will probably be issued following the review."
Field's ambition to change the landscape of government oversight of uranium mining is to force BLM to conduct a programmatic environmental impact statement on all of its permitting activities in 11 western states.
That way, she says, the historical legacy of uranium mining might be taken into account in current permit decisions.
So far there has been no indication from BLM that it would give serious consideration to that request.
Daneros to ink toll milling agreement with Denison?
While BLM reviews the EA, underground work at the Daneros mine is set to be complete by the end of September. The company is installing ventilation fans and a generator. It is waiting for the permit to being operations.
Assuming BLM issues a permit later this year, White Canyon is expected to either sell its ore to Denison's mill in Blanding or pay a contract rate for toll milling and then sell the resulting U3O8 to customers. Denison confirmed to an industry trade newsletter that it is in negotiations with White Canyon Uranium for a toll milling agreement.
In June 2009 it was reported via its website that the initial annual production target for the Daneros mine is 0.5 million pounds,. At a spot price of $50/lb, the mine's output for the next 12 months would be worth $25 million.
The Daneros uranium deposit is a “brownfields” exploration discovery in close proximity to major past producing uranium mines of the Red Canyon mining area, including Lark, Bullseye, Spook and Radium King. The area has good infrastructure and is 60 miles by road from Denison's uranium mill in Blanding, UT.
The Daneros Deposit was discovered by Utah Power & Light in exploration that concluded in the 1980s. It was not mined at the time due to low prices for uranium.
White Canyon Uranium did not respond to an email inquiry about the BLM appeal by press time.
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