Curtis Moore, the company’s director of investor and public relations, said that low uranium prices are to blame for Energy Fuels’ plans to idle production at its White Mesa Mill near Blanding.
“We’d like to be selling more uranium, but the price of uranium is pretty low right now,” he said Nov. 27.
The mill, which has the capacity to produce up to 8 million pounds of uranium per year, is the largest private employer in San Juan County. During normal to peak capacity, 150 to 200 people work at the facility.
Moore said he’s unsure how many of those people will be affected by the temporary shutdown, which is scheduled to begin next August and last for six to eight months.
“I don’t know the answer to that, but there will have to be some temporary layoffs, unfortunately,” he said.
Some employees are expected to remain on the job, he said. Maintenance-related activities and environmental compliance work will continue throughout the shutdown.
“There is a lot of work that still has to be done at a facility like White Mesa, even when it’s not operating,” Moore said.
The move to idle the mill’s operations follows an unspecified number of cutbacks that the company implemented over the past year.
Beyond the White Mesa Mill, the company also plans to shut down one of its two uranium mines in northern Arizona some time next year. It could place the second mine on standby status, Moore said.
San Juan County Commission chairman Bruce Adams said he believes the decision to idle operations at White Mesa will have ripple effects throughout the region.
The last mill closure was fairly short, he said, but it was devastating nonetheless.
He expects that next year’s shutdown will affect everyone from truck drivers to local vendors and business owners, as well as tax-dependent public schools and the county itself.
“We’re just really sad that this has to happen,” Adams said Nov. 26. “We like that business in our county. We support them and what they’re doing.”