Nuclear mother lode?
Company plans to drill for uranium near Stanley
May 31, 2007
By Matt Christensen

STANLEY – The Gem State has long been known for its abundance of mine-worthy minerals: silver, lead, cobalt.

Now, a Canada-based company wants to add uranium to that list.

Magnum Minerals USA, a subsidiary of Magnum Uranium of Vancouver, British Columbia, is seeking permission from the U.S. Forest Service to search for uranium in the Salmon-Challis National Forest.

If permission is granted and an abundance of uranium is discovered, Magnum, a company hoping to profit from a renewed interest in nuclear power, could open the only operating uranium mine in Idaho.

But environmental groups are already calling the plans dangerous, saying the operations could contaminate the Salmon River.

“It’s not a good idea to be mining uranium near the headwaters of a major river,” said Dave Richmond, a medical doctor and head of environmental group Friends of the West.

Magnum wants to drill about 70 exploratory holes in an area about 6 miles northeast of Stanley. The drill cores will be removed from the forest, and the holes will be plugged with clay and capped with cement, said Travis Henderson, a spokesman for Magnum. If the cores yield enough uranium, the
company wants to begin mining operations.

But a uranium mine is still a long way off, said Ralph Rau, district ranger of the Yankee Fork Ranger District in Challis. First, the Forest Service must complete an environmental analysis of the proposal that includes studies by experts in wildlife, hydrology and the environment.

Uranium experts, however, are hard to come by nowadays, said Virginia Gillerman, an associate research geologist with the Idaho Geological Survey. Many are aging or dead because few American companies have explored uranium in the United States since about 1979, the year of the Three Mile Island incident in Pennsylvania.

But many think the U.S. is on the cusp of a nuclear renaissance, thanks to mounting concern over greenhouse gases and coal-fired power plants. An example: China, a country traditionally reliant on coal, has announced plans to build 32 nuclear plants by 2020. And a Virginia-based company is pursuing plans to build a nuclear power plant in Owyhee County.

All this has driven the price of uranium from about $3 a pound to nearly $120 a pound in just a few years, Gillerman said.

That’s prompting companies like Magnum to search for uranium in non-traditional areas, such as south-central Idaho.

The Forest Service said it could finish its analysis later this summer, and Henderson said the company plans to begin its drilling survey soon afterward.

Times-News staff writer Matt Christensen covers the environment. He welcomes comments at 735-3243 and at [email protected].