As fleets of uranium ore trucks fill the highways from all directions hauling ore to the only operating uranium mill in America (located south of Blanding) the long-term future of the industry continues to improve.
From a story by the Associated Press in the June 14 issue of the Deseret News, San Juan County is squarely in the center of the rebirth of nuclear power generation in the United States.
The uranium industry essentially died 30 years ago when the Three Mile Island nuclear “disaster” allowed environmentalists the excuse to pronounce the industry too dangerous to allow further development. Even though there has never been a death in one of the 104 operating nuclear power plants in this country, the construction of nuclear power plants came to a complete halt for the next three decades.
Countries like France and Japan continued with their nuclear programs and today the vast majority of the power in those nations comes from the atom. Today those countries are world leaders in the exportation of nuclear technology and hardware such as reactor cores.
Nuclear power still has its critics. Residents in areas where new generators are proposed, protest on the grounds that atomic reactors may be targets for terrorists. Cyrus Reed, Conservation Director for the Sierra Club’s Lone Star Chapter, says that nuclear plants are too expensive, risky, and use too much water. He says this, despite the fact that most of the proposed new plants are to be built in the South, which is the wettest area of the nation.
However, unlike Mr. Reed, many environmentalists have today switched their wrath from nuclear to coal-powered plants, which are considered by them to be contributors to global warming. The result has been the resurrection of the program that died 30 years ago.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is presently reviewing applications for 13 new reactors in eight different states including one in Utah. There are another 12 plants in seven other states which have indicated they will submit applications before the end of this year. Even with the present protracted time necessary from application through construction to power production, it is anticipated that the first plants approved could come on line as soon as 2016. Each plant will cost billions of dollars. As expensive as new plants are to build, the operating plants built before 1979 today generate power at considerably less cost than any other method except hydro generation. America’s energy problems would be very different today if the nuclear industry had been allowed to continue uninterrupted from 1979 to the present.
However, nuclear power activity in the United States today is dwarfed by plans in China, India and other nations. The demand for nuclear fuel derived from uranium is expected to continue to rise, as hundreds of nuclear power projects are built around the world.
As this demand continues, it will only increase mining, trucking and milling in San Juan County and the Colorado Plateau. Three new mills are slated to be built or brought out of mothballs in Utah and Colorado as soon as licenses from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission are received. Until then, the mill in Blanding is the center of the nuclear universe in the USA. This area has more proven uranium reserves than anywhere in the country. A decade from now, today’s uranium industry may be a “drop in the bucket” compared to what may be coming down the pike.