It is one of a few times since the facility opened in 1980 that tours were available of the multi-million dollar mill, disposal cells, and tailings ponds.
Approximately 140 people participated in the event, which included elected officials, media, industry officials, and local residents.
The mill, owned and operated by Energy Fuels, is the largest private employer in San Juan County. At the current time, there are approximately 50 employees at the facility.
The facility processes uranium and vanadium products from a variety of sources, including ore from mines in the area and from “alternative feed” sources from across North America.
The mill is in the spotlight despite the fact that uranium prices are low and millwork is not occurring at the current time.
Environmental and tribal groups have expressed concern about the mill and recently challenged the extension of the mill’s licensure, groundwater permit and reclamation plans.
Over the past 70 years, the process of mining and milling uranium ore has left a mixed legacy on the Colorado Plateau, leaving a trail of environmental challenges.
Officials at the White Mesa mill insist that the facility is safe and provides a much needed function.
“We are here to put this place back on the map,” said Curtis Moore, a vice president for Energy Fuels. “We intend to be more open and more transparent.”
For the prior 37 years, ownership has remained mostly silent about mill operations, even as the facility has gone through several boom and bust cycles.
In addition, the mill expanded into processing “alternative feeds”, which are waste materials from other areas.
At the open house, officials discussed a variety of issues, including the state of the uranium industry and the future possibilities for the White Mesa mill.
In addition to processing uranium ore from area mines, Energy Fuels is considering additional opportunities, including extracting copper and vanadium, helping in the cleanup of abandoned mines in the area, and processing additional “alternative feed” materials from other sources.
The Energy Fuels Canyon Mine, southwest of Page, AZ, has a high content of both copper and uranium. Energy Fuels is pursuing the possibility of adding the extraction of copper if ore from the Canyon Mine is processed.
In general, for every ton of uranium ore, the milling process extracts 20 pounds of yellow cake. The remainder of the ore, along with the chemicals used to extract the uranium, is sent to the tailings ponds and disposal cells.
Some production materials, including water and acid, are recycled for future reuse in the facility.
Moore states that there are no groundwater issues with the disposal cells. “There are more than 100 groundwater monitoring wells,” said Moore. “There is no evidence that the tailings are leaking.”