The Russian connection
Southwest uranium bound for Russia, possibly Iran

SideStory: The price of Piñon Ridge


by Will Sands

The Russians are coming to the Southwest and plan to take much of the region’s uranium home with them. The Russian government, which recently purchased the mining company Uranium One, has big designs on uranium reserves in Utah’s canyon country and has opened an office in Durango. Watchdogs are concerned that the U.S. is effectively giving away resources to foreign companies and that locally mined and milled yellowcake will soon find its way to Iran.

Last week, Atomredmetzoloto (ARMZ), a mining conglomerate owned by the Russian government, completed the purchase of Uranium One, a Canadian company. ARMZ’s parent company is Rosatom, the Russian nuclear agency, and the deal went forward in spite of objections from four members of the U.S. Congress and a U.S. Department of Treasury inquiry.

The deal gives ARMZ, operating as Uranium One, control of all of the Canadian company’s international assets, which stretch from central Asia to the central United States. Among those assets is control over more than 10,000 acres of uranium mining claims in Southeast Utah, ownership of the Utah town of Ticaboo near Lake Powell, and control of the inactive Shootaring uranium mill there. The consolidation makes Uranium One the fifth-largest uranium producer in the world. Shortly before the transaction, the Russian company opened a regional headquarters in Bodo Park.

“From ARMZ’s perspective, this transaction will solidify Uranium One’s position as a leading uranium supplier,” Vadim Zhivov, director general of ARMZ, announced in a company news release. The company did not respond to the Telegraph’s request for comment.

The perspective on the ground in the Southwest does not reflect Zhivov’s optimism. Courtesy of a loophole in the 1872 Mining Law, the Russian government, operating as Uranium One, will be tapping the region’s uranium virtually free of charge. The mining law was signed into law by President Ulysses S. Grant in order

to encourage rapid settlement of the American West. The law continues to allow companies to stake and develop mining claims without paying royalties to the U.S. government.

“We’ve been seeing this trend for the last 10 to 15 years,” explained Jeff Parsons, of the Western Mining Action Project. “Multi-national companies have gradually been taking over mineral rights all over the West. Then they benefit greatly from our 19th century mining policy, where they essentially get the minerals for free and never have to pay a royalty.”

The case of Uranium One could be an especially difficult pill to swallow. First, the Russian government will be tapping the West’s uranium free of charge and likely exporting it to Europe and Asia. Second, ARMZ has acted as the source of uranium for Iran’s rogue nuclear program, meaning that yellowcake mined in Utah could find its way into reactors in Tehran.

“This is the Russian government coming in to take advantage of our resources,” Parsons said. “This will be American uranium that will be going to Russia, and it’s no secret that Russia supplies Iran with its nuclear fuel.”

Uranium One’s new Russian identity is by no means an isolated coincidence. Energy Fuels Inc., the Canadian company proposing the Piñon Ridge Uranium Mill not far from Durango, recently admitted that much of its product would be exported to China. In addition, Dennison Mines Corp., which operates the White Mesa Mill in nearby Blanding, Utah, has strong connections to South Korea.

“We can dismiss the notion that uranium mining in the Southwest is a domestic energy project,” said Travis Stills, of the Durango-based Energy Minerals Law Center. “South Korea has a huge interest in the White Mesa Mill, the Russians now own Uranium One and Energy Fuels has admitted they will be sending their uranium to China.”

The irony of the recent revelations, according to Stills, is that uranium mining was revived as a so-called push for American energy independence. Stills pointed to the fact that American flags and patriotic slogans dominated many of last year’s regulatory sessions for the Piñon Ridge Mill.

“If I’d been a person arguing that uranium development is about energy independence and somehow patriotic, I’d seriously reconsider my stance,” he said.

Though the U.S. government cannot keep the Russians from mining the redrock desert, Parsons said that American taxpayers should be getting something in return. However, the 1872 Mining Law will have to be reformed before that happens.

“The American people are getting short-changed,” he said. “We’re dealing with a historically high deficit, and for some reason we’re willing to give away our valuable resources to foreign companies.”

Royalties aside, residents of the Southwest will have to pay the final price for the export of nuclear fuel. Once the Russians have packed up and gone home, radioactive remnants are sure to be left behind.

“The fact is the long-term consequences of uranium mining far exceed the short-term gains,” Parsons said. “The uranium industry may provide a handful of jobs for 10 or so years. But in exchange we will get permanent contamination of our land and drinking water.” •

 

 

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