This story was originally published by the country desk and is republished here with permission.
Canada Based Western Vanadium & Uranium announced in a press release that it plans to build a “state-of-the-art” uranium, vanadium and cobalt mill in Utah to process ore that will be processed “both from Western-owned mines and ore produced by other miners.” The announcement doesn’t specify where in Utah the company intends to build the facility, only that it took two years to select and acquire the site, which was chosen “due to the support of local community and county officials.” While George Glasier, the company’s CEO, would not return our calls to ask for the exact location, he said so Salt Lake Grandstand It’s planned for just outside of Green River, Utah, near the site of a now-defunct nuclear power plant. It’s another twist on the strange Western politics surrounding uranium mills.
If this mill is eventually permitted and built, it would be only the second operating uranium processing facility in the country (alongside the White Mesa mill near Blanding, Utah, owned by Energy Fuels). But that’s a big “if,” as Glasier is well aware.
Glasier was 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 very interested in processing ore from Energy Fuels’ mines. So Glasier and Energy Fuels proposed building their own mill, the Piñon Ridge, in the Paradox Valley of Montrose County, Colorado. Glasier led the mill planning and permitting process until his resignation in 2010.
Colorado regulators approved the mill in 2011. Environmental groups sued. And while the court case was playing out, a bunch of mixing was going on: Energy Fuels bought out Denison and the White Mesa Mill, which meant they no longer needed the proposed Piñon Ridge Mill. Glasier formed the mining company Piñon Ridge, which acquired Energy Fuels’ mill license and various mining properties. And Western Uranium and Vanadium bought Glasier’s business – and the Piñon Ridge concession – and installed him as CEO. Finally, in 2018 — more than a decade after the trial began — a judge ruled that the Piñon Ridge permit had been erroneous and state-issued canceled it. The proposal was dead. (Uranium prices were so low then that it’s doubtful the thing would have even been built.)
Glasier didn’t give up on uranium, however, and instead worked to keep it idle for long Sunday mine complex in the Big Gypsum Valley near Slickrock, Colorado, from being placed on reclamation. As uranium prices shoot up again, Glasier and Western Uranium say they are preparing the Sunday Complex for ore production starting as early as next month.
But ore isn’t worth much until it’s ground. Although the White Mesa Mill has plenty of capacity (they were mostly Processing of waste from other companies) and the owners of the Shooting mill near the Henry Mountains say they want to get it working, Glasier and company seem to think another mill is necessary. A unique feature would be the ability to recover cobalt, a key component of electric vehicle batteries.
According to Western Uranium’s press release, permitting for the proposed mill has already begun. Even if that’s true, it will take years to work its way through the process. Perhaps Utah regulators will be more amenable to a radioactive materials processing facility than Colorado was with Piñon Ridge. But this time there is likely to be even fiercer opposition from indigenous people and environmentalists. And, as Uranium Watch’s Sarah Fields points out, you’re going to need water to grind uranium, and it’s scarce these days.
Jonathan Thompson is the editor of The Country Desk and co-editor at News from the Highlands. He is the author of Sagebrush Empire: How a Remote Utah County Became a Battlefront for American Public Lands.