Uranium Ignites 'Gold Rush' In The West
By SUSAN MORAN and ANNE RAUP
Published: March 28, 2007 - The New York Times
LA SAL, Utah — Given its connotations, Pandora is an oddly inappropriate name for an uranium mine. Prices for processed uranium ore, also called U308, or yellowcake, are climbing rapidly.
But that does not seem to bother Denison Mines, the company from Vancouver, British Columbia, that owns it. Denison recently reopened this mine about 30 miles southeast of Moab, along with several others in nearby western Colorado, after it lay dormant during the years when the nation shunned nuclear power.
The revival of uranium mining in the West, though, has less to do with the renewed interest in nuclear power as an alternative to greenhouse-gas-belching coal plants than to the convoluted economics and intense speculation surrounding the metal that has pushed up the price of uranium to levels not seen since the heyday of the industry in the mid-1970s.
“There’s a lot of staking going on,” said Mike Shumway, a 53-year-old Vietnam veteran who owns the contracting business that is working the Pandora mine. “It’s like the gold rush There’s big money in it,” he said as he probed piles of waste ore at Pandora with a Geiger counter. “What other work do you know of where you can make millions in 30 days?”
Not many. Prices for processed uranium ore, also called U308, or yellowcake, are rising rapidly. Yellowcake is trading at $90 a pound, nearing the record high, adjusted for inflation, of about $120 in the mid-1970s. The price has more than doubled in the last six months alone. As recently as late 2002, it was below $10.
A string of natural disasters, notably flooding of large mines in Canada and Australia, has set off the most recent spike. Hedge funds and other institutional investors, who began buying up uranium in late 2004 to exploit the volatility in this relatively small market, have accelerated the price rally.
“I’d call it lucky timing,” said David Miller, a Wyoming legislator and president of the Strathmore Mineral Corporation, a uranium development firm. “Three relatively independent factors — dwindling supplies of inventory, low overall production from the handful of uranium miners that survived the 25-year drought and rising concerns about global warming — all have coincided to drive the current uranium price higher by more than 1,000 percent since 2001.”
Strathmore controls more than three million acres of exploration projects in Canada and previously discovered sources in the United States, primarily around Grants, N.M. In its heyday, the Grants “uranium belt” provided 340 million pounds of uranium, making New Mexico an even larger producer than Utah or Wyoming. Some politicians in the area hope there will be a new wave of mines, mills and jobs.
“There’s so much money pouring into this sector,” said Julie Ickes, editor and publisher of StockInterview.com, which tracks uranium prices and companies. “If you put ‘uranium’ in your company name, you can look like you’re looking for property,” he said. “It’s a lot of talk.”
“You could say there were more millionaires than people here in Moab,” said Sam Taylor, 73, who has been publisher of the local weekly, The Times-Independent, since he took it over from his father in 1956.
Sitting stooped over his wooden desk at the newspaper’s office downtown, Mr. Taylor recalls how he got “the scoop of the century” when a young, cocky geologist named Charlie Steen pulled up in his battered jeep asking if The Times-Independent would publish his six-page paper on his recent discovery of pitchblende, or high-grade uranium.
Not long after, Moab lost its quietude and anonymity to the ore trucks roaring through town almost around the clock to deliver uranium to a mill on the north edge of town.
Some industry watchers fear the uranium market is entering the bust phase of another boom-bust cycle.“It’s like the tech bubble,” said James Finch, senior editor of StockInterview.com. “We’re waiting for the crash.”
But others see plenty of room for prices to climb. One is Bob Mitchell, founder of Adit Capital, a small hedge fund in Portland, Ore. In December of 2004, he became one of the first hedge fund managers to start buying uranium.
The people staking claims and drilling underground are, in the meantime, happy to see the frothy market become frothier. So far this year, 2,700 new uranium claims have been filed with the Bureau of Land Management in Colorado alone. That is nearly half the claims filed in all of last year, and a big jump from the 104 claims for 2004.
But many people in the region, including leaders of the Navajo Nation, are not particularly excited to invite Pandora and other participants in the nuclear industry back into their communities. They say the mining and power companies poisoned workers and residents, in some cases fatally, with radon, silica and tainted groundwater.
More stringent federal oversight means that mines built or refurbished today provide much better ventilation, which minimizes the underground risks. Mine operators are required to take readings of radon levels and air flow in the mines, and to measure miners’ exposure doses.
Another red flag, for environmentalists and utilities alike, is the lack of a national storage site for radioactive waste. The proposed home, Yucca Mountain in Nevada, has cost taxpayers billions over many years as it sits idly, waiting for a final decision.
But that is not holding back Kyle Kimmerle, owner of the Kimmerle Funeral Home in Moab. Mr. Kimmerle, 30, spent summers during his childhood camping and working at several of his father’s mines in the area. In his spare time he has amassed more than 600 uranium claims throughout the once-productive Colorado Plateau.
“My guess is that next year my name won’t be on the sign of this funeral home anymore and I’ll be out at the mines,” he said.
He recently struck a deal with a company to lease 111 of his claims for development. The company, new to uranium mining, has pledged $500,000 a year for five years to improve the properties. Mr. Kimmerle will receive annual payments plus royalties for any uranium mined from the area.
'Court Remands Archaeological Portion to Board'
“Uranium Exploration Permit on Hold”
Submitted by WSDP
Rapid City, SD (USA)- A South Dakota state circuit court judge ordered the archaeological portion of a uranium exploration permit back to the SD Board of Minerals and Environment, the same Board who admits they sent the State Archaeologist to the wrong place. The permit they issued is on hold until a valid permit is granted, although opponents want an injunction until the appeal process is finished.
Two volunteer environmental organizations, ACTion for the Environment and Defenders of the Black Hills filed an appeal to the state circuit court, according to the SD Administrative Procedures Act, after attending a hearing with the SD Board of Minerals and Environment on January 17 and 18, 2007.
The groups were appealing a decision by the Board granting a permit to Powertech (USA) Inc., a Canadian company, to drill 155 additional deep exploratory wells in the southwestern Black Hills for uranium. The company already has 4,000 wells in this specific area. The Black Hills are considered sacred to many member of the Defenders organization, and also to many Native American nations from the North American continent.
The two organizations filed the appeal citing due process of law and equal protection of the law from the South Dakota laws and the US Constitution. Some of the issues presented to the court in the appeal are:
-the signing of the permit by the Board prior to the plaintiffs being given the opportunity to present their objections,
-the failure to consider the plaintiffs written exhibits that were given to the Board,
-the failure to provide interpreters in the Lakota language for two of the elderly members of Defenders of the Black Hills, or for the Board to be able to understand the concerns of these elders,
-and the Board‘s practice of allowing the mining company to present data on the quality of the underground water when the mining process will contaminate the water presenting a conflict of interest. It would be in the mining companies best interest for the water to already be contaminated with uranium and radioactive materials.
W. Cindy Gillis from The Law Offices of Mario Gonzalez is the lead counsel for the Defenders of the Black Hills and ACTion for the Environment courtesy of the Oglala Sioux Tribe. The Tribe has already experienced pollution from past uranium mining in the southwestern Black Hills.
The Board is represented by SD Deputy Attorney General Roxanne Giedd, and Powetech (USA) Inc. is represented by Max Main, attorney from Belle Fourche, SD. The Board will conduct a hearing at 10:00 (CDST) on April 19, 2007, at the SD Department of Environment and Natural Resources, 523 E. Capitol Ave., Pierre, SD.
Contact: Charmaine White Face, Coordinator
Defenders of the Black Hills
PO Box 2003
Rapid City, SD 57709,
Phone: 605- 399-1868
Judge Blocks Mountaintop Mine Permits
Submitted by WSDP
"Miners Would Have Been Able To Fill Valleys With Mined Ore"
CHARLESTON, W.Va. - A federal judge ruled Friday that the Army Corps of Engineers illegally issued permits for four mountaintop removal mines without adequately determining whether the environment would be harmed.
U.S. District Judge Chuck Chambers rescinded the permits, which allow four mines operated by Massey Energy Co. to fill nearby valleys with dirt, rocks and other material removed to expose coal seams.
The Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition and two other environmental groups had sued to force the corps to perform more extensive environmental reviews before granting valley fill permits for the mines.
The corps had maintained that more extensive reviews weren't necessary for the permits. Chambers remanded the permits to the corps for further consideration.
Messages left after hours for the corps and for Richmond, Va.-based Massey were not immediately returned.
The issue of mountaintop removal and valley fills has been argued in state and federal courts in the region for nearly a decade. Coal operators claim the practice is an efficient way to expose seams in mountainous coalfields.
Environmentalists call the technique destructive and point to a 2005 study that said mountaintop removal and valley fills had buried 1,200 miles of headwater streams in Appalachia.
The corps had argued that mitigation techniques, including restoring streams, would offset any harmful effects. Chambers, however, said the agency failed to assess the full impact of destroying headwater streams within a watershed.
"The evidence to date shows that the Corps has no scientific basis no real evidence of any kind upon which it bases its decisions to permit this permanent destruction to streams and headwaters," said Steve Roady, a lawyer with Washington-based Earthjustice, which represented the environmental groups.
Bill Raney, president of the West Virginia Coal Association, said he had not read the ruling and had no immediate comment. The association had intervened in the lawsuit.
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