DENVER (AP) — After a lengthy and contentious approval process, the state has granted a license for construction to begin on the first new uranium mill in the U.S. in more than 30 years.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment on Thursday granted Energy Fuels a radioactive materials license, clearing the way for construction on the facility in Montrose County. The Pinon Ridge Mill is expected to process 500 tons of uranium and vanadium, which is used in steel alloys and high-tech batteries, per day.

The mill will primarily process ore from mines in Gateway, Colo., and La Sal, Utah. The ore will be transformed into uranium oxide, which will be sent out of state to be turned into fuel for nuclear reactors.

Colorado originally authorized the project in 2011, prompting appeals from a handful of activist groups. A Denver judge eventually invalidated that license after finding that the state did not hold formal public hearings.

Opponents worry about the potential for hazardous waste contamination. But the Department of Public Health and Environment insists in its environmental analysis that appropriate safeguards are in place.

The license was issued with several conditions, including that Energy Fuels develop a groundwater monitoring plan, which will be reviewed annually. The license itself is subject to a periodic review, and must be renewed whenever there is a change to operation procedures or key personnel.

Additionally, the Department of Public Health and Environment plans to designate at least one staff member whose priority will be monitoring and inspecting the mill. The department’s executive director, Chris Urbina, said this will not require any additional personnel or resources.

The environmental analysis notes that 88 percent of the land within five miles of the proposed site is undeveloped and administered by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. Some privately owned land is used to graze cattle, but the report says there are very few residences near where the mill will be built.

Energy Fuels still has to secure permits related to the construction of the facility, but those are permits required of any new building project, according to Urbina.

(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)


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