Another uranium mill on its way to Utah?
Plus: Pondering Politics and the all new Random Real Estate Room
THE NEWS: Canada-based Western Vanadium & Uranium announced in a news release that it plans to build a “state-of-the-art” uranium, vanadium, and cobalt mill in Utah to process ore “mined both from mines owned by Western and ore produced by other miners.” The announcement does not specify where in Utah the company plans to build the facility, only that it took two years to select and acquire the site, which was chosen “based on the support of local municipal and county officials.” George Glasier, the company’s CEO, has not responded to our query regarding the location. Regardless, it’s another twist in the weird Western politics surrounding uranium mills.
THE CONTEXT: If this mill is ultimately permitted and built, it would be only the second operating uranium processing plant in the nation (in addition to the White Mesa Mill near Blanding, Utah, owned by Energy Fuels). But that’s a big “if,” as Glasier is well aware.
Glasier was the 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 too keen on processing ore from Energy Fuels’ mines. So, Glasier and Energy Fuels proposed building their own mill, the Piñon Ridge, in the Paradox Valley in Montrose County, Colorado. Glasier spearheaded the mill planning and permitting process up until his resignation in 2010.
Colorado regulators permitted the mill in 2011. Environmental groups sued. And as the legal process played out, a bunch of shuffling was going on: Energy Fuels bought out Denison and the White Mesa Mill, meaning they no longer needed the proposed Piñon Ridge Mill. Glasier started the Piñon Ridge Mining company, which purchased the mill license and various mining properties from Energy Fuels. And Western Uranium and Vanadium purchased Glasier’s company — and the Piñon Ridge permit — and installed him as CEO. Finally, in 2018 — more than a decade after the process began — a judge ruled the Piñon Ridge permit had been issued in error and the state rescinded it. The proposal was dead (uranium prices were so low by then it’s doubtful the thing would have been built anyway).
Glasier, however, didn’t give up on uranium, instead working to keep the long-idled Sunday Mine Complex in the Big Gypsum Valley near Slickrock, Colorado, from being put into reclamation status. With uranium prices shooting back up, Glasier and Western Uranium say they are preparing the Sunday Complex to produce ore beginning as early as next month.
But ore isn’t worth much until it’s milled. Although the White Mesa Mill has plenty of capacity (they’ve mostly been processing other companies’ waste) and the owners of the Shootaring Mill near the Henry Mountains say they want to get it up and running, Glasier and co. apparently think yet another mill is necessary. One unique feature it would have is the ability to recover cobalt, a key component of electric vehicle batteries.
Western Uranium’s news release says permitting for the proposed mill has already begun. Even if that’s true, it will take years for it to wend its way through the process. Perhaps Utah regulators will be more amenable to a radioactive material processing plant than Colorado was with Piñon Ridge. But this time there’s likely to be even fiercer opposition from Indigenous and environmental advocates. And, as Sarah Fields of Uranium Watch points out: They’re going to need water to mill uranium and it’s in short supply these days.
I just finished reading longtime Durango journalist John Peel’s new book, The Ballantines: Building Community Issue by Issue and would recommend it to anyone interested in Durango, Colorado, and its history. It’s a chronicle of how Arthur and Morley Ballantine, an East Coaster with a Harvard law-degree and a Midwesterner from a newspaper family, came West in 1952 and bought two struggling Durango newspapers, melding them into the Durango Herald. (For more on the book, look for my upcoming review in the Herald).
One of my favorite parts of the book is the description of the Ballantines’ ritual of inviting community leaders and thinkers and colleagues into their Durango home for conversations around the backyard pool (as a young kid I attended a few with my parents). Folks of all political persuasions would sit around, chain smoke cigarettes, drink “Ballantine Bomb” cocktails brimming with Scotch, Bourbon or gin, and discuss local, regional, or national issues of the day.
Picture it: You’ve got a bunch of Republicans and Democrats, raging conservatives and semi-Marxist liberals, having alcohol-fueled discussions on hot-button topics — and no one got thrown in the pool. Peel also writes about how Arthur and Morley Ballantine were devoted Republicans — the Herald endorsed Richard Nixon. And yet, Morley was also a fervent supporter of reproductive rights and Planned Parenthood — and the G.O.P. didn’t throw her out of the party.
It’s hard to imagine any of that sort of civility or ideological flexibility occurring today. Once upon a time we could discuss issues on which we disagreed in hopes of reaching some sort of solution or compromise that both sides could at least live with. Now it seems as if solutions are the last thing folks want to achieve. And compromise? Are you nuts? It’s much better to be enraged about our perceived victimization!
I mean, hell, the Republicans are ripping each others’ throats out, over … well, I don’t really know what they’re fighting about, except for their respective degrees of fealty to Donald Trump. And, yes, Democrats have their own intra-party spats involving the likes of Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, but even die-hard G.O.P.ers have to admit their party is leading the race to Crazytown. After all, for all of the infighting, the Democrats still passed major legislation over the last couple of years, including the Infrastructure Act and the Inflation Reduction Act. Republicans are far more interested in performative acts of outrage intended to achieve little aside from “owning the libs.” Consider some examples:
A quintet of Wyoming Republican lawmakers introduce a bill that would ban sales of electric vehicles in the state in order to “send a message” that they don’t like California’s similar ban on gasoline-powered cars because, I don’t know, they love inhaling diesel fumes? It’s as if they see this as a sort of sporting event, with the EVs in one corner and the ICEs in the other. Uh, no. This is about pollution and public health and cleaning up dirty transportation.
Again in Wyoming, a lawmaker proposes doing away with net metering, or the requirement that utilities fairly compensate rooftop solar owners for sending excess power back to the grid. Once again, these fossil fuel fetishists will do anything to knock out cleaner forms of energy, even if it compromises individuals’ energy independence.
A group of Utah lawmakers calling themselves the Yellowcake Caucus launch an effort to log the hell out of the state’s forests in order to, get this, save The Great Salt Lake and Lake Powell. Yeah, the trees are stealing the water, folks. So kill them! Oh, and the Yellowcake Caucus? Really? Yes, the federally subsidized uranium mining and milling industry provided jobs and some economic sustenance for the state during the Cold War, but it also poisoned and sickened many of these guys’ constituents and their ancestors. Maybe try a bit of respect — oh, yeah, that’s the opposite of what these folks are going for.
Up in Montana state lawmakers are trying to do away with the state energy policy. Not just the parts they don’t like, but the whole damned thing, never mind that it has been in place since 1993. That way the governor, a radical right-wing nutjob, wolf-killer, and journalist-assaulter, will have freedom to set an energy agenda of his choice. Do you think it will include rescinding environmental protections and regulations on fossil fuels? Maybe?
Oh, and then there’s the kerfluffle over M&Ms. The nutjobs are upset because — as I understand it — the M&M marketing characters changed their friggin’ shoes. Yeah, that’s right.
And, finally, we have the great gas stove war. This is the perfect example of utter stupidity. A study came out showing that having a gas stove in your house wasn’t all that healthy and resulted in higher rates of asthma in children. This sparked a false rumor that someone was going to ban gas stoves. And that sparked the usual false outrage amongst the Tucker Carlsons and endless memes about the sanctity of gas stoves, e.g. “God, Guns, Gas Stoves,” and so forth.
It goes on and on and on. There are so many real problems out there that need to be tackled. Housing costs almost everywhere are out of reach of the average earner, utility bills are skyrocketing because of volatile fossil fuel prices, the West’s infrastructure is getting pummeled by drought and deluge, at least 18 people have been killed in mass shootings in the last three days in California, alone, and folks are yelling and screaming and wasting time and energy on what shoes M&M cartoon characters wear.
It really makes you long for those civil, alcohol-soaked, cigarette smoke-shrouded “salons” in the Ballantines back yard, doesn’t it?
Random Real Estate Room
Well, it finally happened. The Land Desk sold out to the real estate industrial complex and we’re going to sell big dollar ads for mountain McMansions. Our name will change to Land Pimp.
I’m kidding. Obviously. As if any respectable real estate agent would touch this newsletter with a ten foot pole.
However, I am introducing a little new feature. See, I spend a lot of time looking at real estate market reports, scanning real estate ads, and surfing Zillow looking for the most absurd listings and in hopes of finding at least one or two interesting and maybe even affordable properties just to get a sense of the state of the industry. So I figured I’d occasionally share with y’all some of the listings that stand out for whatever reason.
Today’s feature was sent in by devoted Land Desk reader Rick. It’s a really nice house … boat.
Yup. It’s a 50-footer, which makes it about the size of my house, but it has a rooftop patio and it floats, which I can’t say for my casa. It looks like pretty nice accommodations to me, and it’s only $29,500, making it some of the cheapest housing in the West. If you can find a free place to park it, that is. You can stay on it for two weeks at a time on Lake Powell, but that’s it. Getting it out of the water and to a long-term site might be difficult, given the low water’s effect on boat ramps. And piloting it upstream on the Colorado to get outside the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area might not be a great idea. But then, everyone needs some adventure in their lives, right?