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Uranium fight not over Print

by Andrew Villegas
Greeley Tribune
February 12, 2009

It’s time to get back to work, critics of uranium mining say.

For the residents across northern Colorado who are opposed to a proposed uranium mine near Wellington, the holidays were a time off. Out of the public eye, and off the radar it may be, but the uranium mine they say threatens their ground water hasn’t stopped. Indeed, it may be just beginning.

Powertech Uranium Corp. — a Canadian firm — is busy collecting ground, air, water and soil samples from its Centennial site, about seven miles from Wellington, 16 from Greeley and 11 from Fort Collins, in hopes to apply for permits in May to establish an in-situ leach mine, said Richard Clement, president and CEO of Powertech. In-situ mining pumps treated groundwater into the ground to dissolve and collect uranium, which is brought back to the surface.

Clement said the permitting process will take about a year but that the site should be ready to go in mid-2011.

In the meantime, neighbors around the site are fighting, full-bore once again, to stop the mine from ever getting off, or out of the ground.

Jay Davis, who owns land near the proposed mine, said opponents of the mine aren’t going to back off. They have new evidence of groundwater contamination in Texas and New Mexico and Wyoming and are ready to use it.

“We’ve got too much at stake, realistically,” Davis said, adding that Coloradoans Against Resource Destruction, the main anti-uranium group, has joined forces with a lot of other groups to share information and resources to stop the mine.

Davis said new rulemaking that follows last year’s passage of HB 1161 in the Colorado Legislature that requires mining companies return ground water to pre-mining levels for toxins, chemicals and heavy metals will be important moving forward to make sure the environment in northern Colorado is protected.

And a movement that once was 2,000 strong is now almost 12,000 strong — that’s the number of people electronically signing a petition against the mine.

Clement says, however, that if people understood that in-situ mining is safer than oil and gas drilling, that they wouldn’t be afraid of the mine.

Powertech also is in near constant contact with Colorado officials as it goes through the steps it needs to before application for drilling and mining permits, he said, and will remain in touch as the Colorado Attorney General’s office readies the rules to implement HB 1161.

Prices for uranium have fallen off since the heyday of uranium demand, when prices approached $140 in July 2007. Since then, prices have steadily declined to around $47 a pound, the price the radioactive metal currently is.

Clement said despite the lower price, the mine remains viable, especially because the kind of contract Powertech is likely to enter into for its uranium — long-term ones — would pay $65-$70 per pound.

A new mine would only not be viable if that long-term contract price dropped to $30-$35 a pound, he said. Clement said he doesn’t foresee that happening and said he has seen estimations that the price of uranium could go as high as $200 a pound by 2010 before leveling off. Higher demand will come from increasing numbers of nuclear reactors, Clement said.

In fact, uranium mining and using it for energy production may even be — at least to him — preferable to wind farms, Clement said.

“It’s more troubling to see a bunch of wind farms,” Clement said. “Because it’s big and ugly.”

Note: Richard Clement, president of Powertech, said residents are welcome to come into the Powertech office in Wellington to ask questions about the Centennial site. The office is located at 8305 6th St., Wellington. The phone number there is (970) 282-7777. It is run by Terry Walsh.

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