MONTICELLO — A now idled uranium mine could increase its physical footprint by more than tenfold under a proposed expansion under review by the Bureau of Land Management.
The Daneros Uranium Mine in southeast Utah, once called the Denison Mine, would supply mined uranium ore to White Mesa, the country's only operating, conventional uranium processing mill. The mill is about 60 miles north of the mine and a few miles outside of Blanding.
On Tuesday, the federal land management agency extended the public comment period on an environmental assessment until Aug. 1, based on requests from multiple groups.
Energy Fuels submitted a modification to its mining plan three years ago, seeking an expansion that targets two mine portals, adds ventilation holes and grows the mine surface area from 4.5 acres to 46 acres. The mine would produce 25,000 tons of uranium ore a year and increase to a total production of 500,000 tons over 20 years.
Although the mine is on "maintenance" status with a valid, existing permit, the expansion would give Energy Fuels more options should the uranium market improve, the BLM's Lisa Bryant said.
Uranium fuel is used to power nuclear reactors, with 100 licensed by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and operating in the United States as of 2013. The BLM said there are another 18 reactors that have been proposed for construction.
In June, the Tennessee Valley Authority's Watts Bar Unit 2 connected to the power grid, marking the first time in nearly two decades a new reactor came online in the United States.
The unit is the first to be licensed under new safety rules enacted in the aftermath of the 2011 nuclear plant accident at Fukushima, Japan.
According to the BLM's analysis, it takes 47 million pounds of uranium fuel to sustain U.S. nuclear power plants each year, but the country only produces 4.6 million pounds. More than 80 percent of the country's uranium fuel comes from foreign countries.
The White Mesa Mill has a licensed capacity of more than 8 million pounds of uranium and the Daneros Mine would comprise 2 percent of its capacity.
The BLM said the Daneros portal is nearing its capacity and needs to be expanded for continued operations.
The agency consulted with a dozen tribal entities and has received input from environmental organizations and other governmental groups as it has gone through the review process.
Sarah Fields, with Uranium Watch, said the BLM should have done a more exhaustive environmental analysis probing impacts.
Fields cited concerns over multiple aspects of the expansion, including pollution from fugitive dust, the mine's proximity to Natural Bridges National Monument and the increased truck traffic.
The BLM said the mine's expansion would not result in violations of air quality standards or impact visibility at area national parks or monuments.
Much of the project's construction and mining would be carried out in phases to minimize impacts, the agency said.
Comments may be submitted through the agency's ePlanning website or via mail to Daneros EA Comment, BLM Monticello Field Office, P.O. Box 7, Monticello, UT, 84535.
Commenters should be aware that their entire comment, including personal identifying information, may be made publicly available at any time, the BLM advised. All submissions from organizations and businesses and from individuals identifying themselves as representatives or officials of organizations or businesses will be available for public inspection in their entirety.