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Western Colorado's Paradox Valley
A proposal to build the nation's first uranium mill in 25 years could transform Paradox, Colorado into the a principle source of uranium milling for the nuclear fuel industry. The mill would process ore from 41 nearby mills and could provide up to 85 jobs paying $45,000 to $75,000 per year, according to mill operator Energy Fuels Resources, a wholly owned subsidiary of a Canadian corporation of the same name. A county study showed the mill could increase county housing demand by 31 percent and generate up to 564 additional long-term jobs in the county in sectors like construction, retail, and mining.

The demolished company milling town of Uravan, 16 miles from Naturita, shows the other side of uranium. Originally a radium mining site in the early 1900s, it became a company town in 1935, when U.S. Vanadium Corp. built a mill and expanded the mine. Its output fueled the Manhattan Project and the Cold War's nuclear arms race. But few measures were in place to protect workers, residents or the environment from uranium's harm, and the town was evacuated in 1984 due to extensive radioactive contamination.

After becoming a federal Superfund clean-up site in 1986, the site was reclaimed in 2008 at a cost of $127 million, paid for Vanadium Corp.'s owner, Union Carbide Corporation. In August 2009, a federal appeals court ruled against past residents of the mill town who sought compensation for their illnesses, siding with Union Carbide. Mill supporters discount that history, arguing that regulations have drastically improved since Uravan, with multiple government agencies now overseeing milling and mining operations.

The company will have to post a $12 million bond upfront for clean-up of the site should the company go bankrupt, according to application documents. The mill would use about 150 gallons per minute to process uranium ore. (The Daily Climate, 6/29/2010)