EPA: Denison operating Arizona mine 'illegally'

05 May 2010

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has told Canada-based Denison Mines that it has failed to comply with environmental and permitting regulations and is therefore operating its Arizona 1 uranium mine illegally.


Arizona 1 (Denison)

Arizona 1 headframe (Image: Denison Mines)

In a notice of violation, the EPA said that Denison had failed to apply for and obtain an approval to construct or modify prior to ventilating the Arizona 1 mine, as well as failing to provide notifications regarding start-up of the mine. In addition, the EPA alleges that Denison also failed to obtain EPA approval for an alternative test method to determine compliance with radon emission standards.


Prior to Denison acquiring the property, which lies north of the Grand Canyon, Energy Fuels Nuclear Inc obtained authorization from the EPA to construct and operate the Arizona 1 mine. However, this approval - granted in August 1988 - would only remain in effect as long as "the Arizona 1 mine is operated as an active underground uranium mine" by Energy Fuels. The permit stated that this approval "is not transferable to another owner or operator." Although Energy Fuels had partially developed Arizona 1 for underground mining, the mine was inactive from the early 1990s until late in 2009.


The EPA says that the permit is no longer valid because of the "long period of inactivity at the mine and because of the transfer of ownership."


In June 2008, Denison submitted a letter to the EPA regarding its intention to reactivate the Arizona 1 mine. The letter stated that the mine was projected to produce 182,500 tonnes of uranium ore annually. It also said that Denison intended to "reactivate the mine by rehabilitating the surface facilities and further developing the underground workings using the existing shaft."


The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (Adeq) issued an air quality permit to Denison for Arizona 1 in September 2009. Denison began ventilating the mine in late 2009, causing the release of radon to the air. In December 2009, Denison began removing ore from the mine.


The EPA also claims that Adeq's air quality permit is not valid as the department is not authorized to approve the construction or modification of "a regulated source." It added that Denison violated regulations by ventilating the mine and causing it to become "active" before it had submitted an application to the EPA for approval to construct/modify the Arizona 1 mine. It also claims that Denison restarted the mine without providing EPA with timely notification of the anticipated or actual date of initial start-up.


Denison president Ron Hochstein said that he was surprised by the notice and believed the company was operating within the law, according to an Associated Press report. He said he was working with regulators to address the issues.


A determination on whether to assess fees or civil penalties would not be made until after a hearing is held on the violation notice.


Researched and written

by World Nuclear News