Office of Legacy Management

Renewed Uranium Leases Come with Stricter Environmental Standards

October 21, 2019

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After a 10-year hiatus, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is restarting uranium mining leasing on public lands, while also incorporating more stringent environmental standards into the process. All renewed leases for these mining sites will require a detailed environmental assessment of the impacts of future mining on the area to ensure protection of air, water, wildlife, and cultural resources with a renewed emphasis on safety.

DOE Office of Legacy Management (LM) Uranium Leasing Program (ULP) leases uranium-rich land in the Uravan Mineral Belt, located in southwest Colorado, to private companies for uranium mining.

"During the injunction, I learned the importance of having a site-specific environmental analysis for every mining tract in the future, should the dormant mines eventually come back online,” said Jay Glascock, Uranium Mines Team Lead. “With that probability in sight, there is a natural tension between providing for our modern ways of living and protecting our natural resources. As a long-time Coloradan, I’m mindful of the importance to preserving [Colorado’s] resources and reminded daily of her unparalleled scenic beauty. Whether I’m carving the slopes when skiing in the mountains, hiking or backpacking in our wilderness areas, or rafting and fishing in our many lakes and rivers, it is this Colorado way of life that I’m looking to protect."

The revived program includes the following changes to the site leases that will better protect the country's natural resources and surrounding communities:

LM is committed to protecting the wildlife and plant species that make Colorado their home.

Before any new mining activity takes place, independent, third-party environmental consultants will examine how a lessee’s mining proposal will affect the area’s plants and animals, as well as cultural and historical resources. LM — in consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Bureau of Land Management — created specific guidelines to safeguard a few key species, including the yellow-billed cuckoo, Gunnison sage grouse, burrowing owls, and sensitive bat species.

LM is committed to protecting the waterways of the West.

Mining plans will also be evaluated for their impact on local waterways, including the Dolores and San Miguel rivers. To further protect the region’s resources, lessees must design and construct mine-waste and ore-storage areas that reduce the potential for contact with stormwater runoff.

LM is committed to protecting the integrity of local land for future use.

Once mining begins, the new lease agreements mandate that leaseholders minimize disturbance to the area. LM requires lessees to save soil displaced during mining activity for use in site reclamation — the process of restoring the land to its natural state. All reclamation work must meet current environmental regulations and receive final approval by LM and the state of Colorado.

LM is committed to protecting the health and safety of area residents.

In addition to reclaiming sites for environmental purposes, formerly mined land must be restored to ensure public safety. New lease agreements now mandate prompt reclamation of areas no longer needed to support lease operations, identify and correct physical hazards, and eliminate dangerous conditions.

“The ULP is important to the nuclear supply chain in the United States, which starts with responsible mining here in Colorado,” said Glascock. “I firmly believe that this domestic source of uranium ore will improve our national security by reducing our reliance on foreign sources of uranium. It will also keep our fuel prices low for the many nuclear power generators in the U.S. by increasing available supplies. The ULP provides access to our own critical resources and will help put Coloradans to work, exploring for and responsibly producing the uranium our country needs.”

ULP ultimately helps set clear expectations for U.S. nuclear-related activity, holding lessees accountable to the highest environmental and safety standards in uranium mining. The United States currently imports about 40% of its uranium from Kazakhstan, Russia, and Uzbekistan, so ULP will potentially increase the availability of a domestic supply or uranium. The updated lease agreements reinforce LM’s commitment to land stewardship, proper management of synthetic and natural resources, and public and environmental safety for the current community and generations to come.