May 3, 2009 4:15 pm US/Mountain
CANON CITY, Colo. (AP) ―
Owners of an idled Canon City uranium mill where contamination remains a problem are planning to reopen for business.
The Cotter Corp. has told state officials they plan to process uranium from a New Mexico mine as early as 2014. The company would ship 12.5 million tons of ore by train to its site along the Arkansas River.
But some local leaders oppose the plan and federal authorities haven't finished investigating whether contamination could be causing cancer and other health problems.
The mill operated from 1958 to 1979, then intermittently until 2006. It was declared a federal Superfund site in 1984 because radioactive materials had contaminated the soil and groundwater.
"That mill is just in the wrong place. I'd rather see them decommission and go away," Fremont County Commissioner Mike Stiehl said.
The mill is one of four in the nation licensed to convert uranium ore into yellowcake, fuel for nuclear power plants. It sits above the Arkansas River on the south side of Canon City, about 100 miles southwest of Denver.
Cleanup has lagged with repeated violations. State officials have allowed the mill to stay open on a "stand-down" basis, allowing Cotter to retain an operating license.
Cotter plans to refurbish the mill and hire up to 80 workers to process uranium ore from a mine on Mount Taylor in northern New Mexico, said John Hamrick, Cotter's vice president of milling.
The project depends on Cotter's sister company, Rio Grande Resources, draining the flooded uranium mine at 8,000 feet on Mount Taylor.
The mountain near Grants, N.M., is considered sacred by several Indian tribes.
"What I find perplexing is how Cotter here in Colorado can say they intend to do a deal with their sister company in New Mexico when all these issues are still pending," said state Rep. Buffie McFadyen, D-Pueblo West, who represents residents around the mill.
State health officials say the area will have to be cleaned up whether the mill is refurbished or closed.