On June 12, the Salt Lake Tribune Editorial Board published a piece about the ongoing license renewal process for the White Mesa Mill, a uranium processing facility located near Blanding that is owned by our company, Energy Fuels based in Lakewood, Colo. Unfortunately, the editorial made a number of inaccurate statements about how our mill is regulated. Therefore, we feel we need to respond in order to correct the record.
The White Mesa Mill has been responsibly producing natural uranium product for almost 40 years. Uranium, of course, is the fuel for clean, carbon-free nuclear energy that today provides 20 percent of all electricity – and 60 percent of the clean, non-emitting electricity — in the U.S.
Despite the claims of activists – and now the Tribune — the mill is heavily regulated by an array of Utah and federal government agencies, staffed by scientists, engineers and other professionals. The standards that apply to the facility, including standards for air emissions and radioactivity, are extraordinarily stringent, and the mill operates in compliance with every applicable law, rule and regulation, all of which are strictly enforced by those agencies. We can say with confidence that the Mill is safe to the public, our employees and the environment. There is no evidence that groundwater has been impacted by the mill's tailings cells, or that any nearby residents have been adversely impacted by the mill's operations. And, as the largest private employer in San Juan County, the mill is a good source of local jobs, including jobs for Native Americans, who typically form a majority of our work force. The mill is also an important source of tax revenues used for schools, hospitals and other infrastructure.
For these reasons, Energy Fuels, our employees, and many of the residents of Blanding and the surrounding areas are extremely proud of the White Mesa Mill, and the many benefits it provides to the region and the United States.
We need to also specifically address one item the Tribune implies repeatedly in its editorial: that the Mill has been operating without a valid license since 2007. This is something the activists have recently been saying – and it's untrue. Under applicable federal and state rules, the mill's license is in "timely renewal," which means that the existing 2007 license continues in full force and effect during the renewal process. Maintaining the existing license in effect during the renewal process gives the state time to thoroughly review the proposed license in order to ensure that it satisfies all applicable laws and regulations and is fully protective of public health, safety and the environment. During the renewal process, the mill is required to be in compliance with all current laws and regulations. Therefore, the existing license has been amended and updated by the state several times, including the addition of increased monitoring requirements, to ensure that it remains current and protective.
The activists – and now the Tribune — also suggest that our "alternate feed material" business should be a concern. This is also unfounded. When we process alternate feed materials, we are simply processing materials that are not generated from a mine, but which contain recoverable quantities of natural uranium. In other words, we are recycling unusable materials into a clean energy fuel. Each alternate feed material requires a license amendment, which is only issued by the state if the processing of the material will be performed in accordance with all safety, health and environmental laws and regulations. The mill has received approvals to recycle about 20 different sources of alternate feed materials over the past 20-plus years and is well-equipped to safely perform this recycling service.
Finally, questions have been raised about notifications to the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe in the unlikely event of an emergency. As with all industrial facilities, the mill has a detailed emergency response plan that ensures prompt notification to the authorities responsible for centralized communication with local populations. That said, we are willing to discuss additional notification arrangements with Tribal authorities.
From good local jobs to fueling clean domestic energy, the White Mesa Mill is a valuable asset to the local community — and the United States. We are extremely proud to responsibly own and operate such a beneficial facility.
Mark Chalmers is the chief operating officer of Energy Fuels Resources.