Watchdogs have roles in uranium mine plans

Northern Colorado’s history is hardly rife with examples of real estate developers, manufacturing companies or mining prospectors running roughshod over environmental interests in pursuit of their goals.

To the contrary, and for the good of all, plenty of proposals for commercial development that would have meant environmental degradation have been stopped in their tracks.

That is one reason that opponents of the Centennial Project, a proposal by Canadian mining company Powertech to unearth uranium in northwest Weld County, should take heart. Before a single pound of the radioactive mineral that is the basis of the world’s nuclear power industry can be taken out of the claim site near the small town of Nunn, local, state and federal watchdog agencies have to agree.

The stakes are high, for certain: The global uranium market makes it worth the $3 million that Powertech will pay over the course of the next two years to push its project through the permitting process. In fact, if prices remain steady and yields measure up to what the company expects, the mine will bring in more than $500 million.

Lined up in the permit and licensing process are layers of federal, state and local government agencies charged with ensuring that Powertech’s process does not foul the groundwater or the air, or cause other environmental harm. They include:

• The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which must issue a special permit certifying that Powertech’s process would comply with the federal Safe Drinking Water Act before the company can go forward.

• The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, with two separate requirements that Powertech must meet – one to protect air and groundwater quality and another licensing process that governs handling of radioactive materials.

• Colorado’s Natural Resources Department, through its Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety, which will oversee the licensing process and, if approved, the operation of Powertech’s mine.

A crucial feature of the review process is that it is transparent. Documents that detail the engineering studies required for permitting are freely available to the public, including mine opponents and their expert advisers.

As the Business Report wrote in a previous editorial on this subject, time is on the side of those who most need assurance that the company’s plan is a safe one. We believe that they should have faith that the two-and-a-half-year license approval process that Powertech must pursue will be thorough and fair.