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Uranium mine on hold; owner says startup still anticipated in future

Jun 2, 2014 - By Eric Blom, Staff Writer

Energy Fuels had announced plans to develop a 5,400-acre mine in the Gas Hills.

Permitting for a new uranium mine in the Gas Hills has ceased because the company behind it decided to redesign the project. The company, Energy Fuels USA, plans to submit new plans and restart the process in the future.

"We're doing quite a bit of assessment of the previously designed project. The whole project probably needs to be redesigned, but the project is still being pursued," Energy Fuels spokesman Curtis Moore said.

The company acquired the local uranium project in September when it merged with Strathmore Minerals, which had been developing the mine.

Energy Fuels sent BLM a letter announcing the change in plan.

"Because they withdrew their plan of operations, the BLM has discontinued work on the environmental impact statement," Bureau of Land Management spokeswoman Sarah Beckworth said.

Drafting an environmental impact statement would have been the next step in the permitting process set out by the National Environmental Policy Act.

The project was planned to cover 5,400 acres in the Gas Hills, an area about 40 miles east of Riverton, and to use open pit mining. It had finished the scoping stage of the process, in which the BLM gathered input from the public on possible environmental impacts.

In February, BLM issued a final permit to another uranium mine in the Gas Hills and adjacent to Energy Fuels's site. Cameco owns the mine but does not plan to develop it immediately because of market conditions.

Energy Fuels is focusing on its Sheep Mountain uranium mine project located near Jeffrey City and also in Fremont County.

"We're pursuing that very aggressively," Moore said.

Permitting for that mine is the environmental impact statement stage, but is at least months away from completion.

Energy Fuels plans to use open pit and underground mining and a heap leach extraction process at the location. It might build a facility to process the material into refined yellow cake on site, but could also send it to another location for that step.

The company believes there is 30.3 million tons of uranium in the ground at Sheep Mountain.

According to a plan of operations Energy Fuels submitted in August, the company expected the mine to produce 1 to 2 million pounds of uranium oxide a year.

"The BLM is doing an (environmental impact statement) with a third party contractor. We anticipate a draft EIS being issued this summer," said Frank Filas, Energy Fuels's vice president of environmental affairs.

A public comment period, a final draft and a record of decision would follow.

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