By Steve Mcmanamen, News Record Writer smcmanamen@gillettenewsrecord.net

Wyoming's Washington delegation is concerned about the proposed transfer of three Powder River Basin uranium facilities into the hands of a Russian company.

The Powder River Basin uranium facilities have been pulled into the Iran nuclear debate on Capitol Hill with a deal that would transfer the controlling interest of Canadian-owned Uranium One to the Russian company JSC Atomredmetzoloto. The company now owns 23.1 percent of Uranium One's common stock and is seeking a controlling 51 percent share.

Commonly known as ARMZ, the company is controlled by Russia's state agency that oversees its nuclear industry. The agency has supplied uranium to Iran.

Uranium One has said that no uranium from the facilities in Wyoming will go to Russia or Iran, but that hasn't seemed to placate concerns from Wyoming's delegation and other lawmakers in Washington. The Washington Times reported Wednesday that four senior House Republicans, none of whom are from Wyoming, sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner on Tuesday to block the sale of Uranium One to ARMZ.

If Republicans win control of the House in the Nov. 2 midterm elections, the four members are in line to be chairmen of committees that would have potential oversight of the sale, according to the Times article.

Donna Wichers, Uranium One's senior vice president of in-situ mining, told the Casper Star-Tribune in September that the company's U.S. assets will be managed by its existing American team, and the company will continue to be publicly traded on the Canadian exchange.

"Uranium One continues to expect to receive the necessary U.S. approvals required to close its transaction with ARMZ in the next little while. Uranium One's U.S. mines are being built for the purpose of providing additional domestic supply to U.S. customers," Wichers said via e-mail Thursday.

Uranium One's Wyoming assets

Uranium One owns the Christensen Ranch and Moore Ranch processing facilities in Campbell County and the Irigary plant in Johnson County, just west of the Campbell County border.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has just issued an operating license for the Moore Ranch. It was the first application for a uranium recovery license accepted by the NRC in two decades.

None of the facilities are in operation now, but plans are to put them in operation as soon as possible. The company has prospects in the Powder River Basin encompassing 140,000 acres and plans to produce about 1 million pounds of uranium "yellow cake" a year from its Campbell and Johnson County operations. The sale is supposed to be completed by the end of the year.

The Russian take on the sale

Russian officials have a decidedly different take on the U.S. Congressmen's opposition to the sale. An English version of The Voice of Russia, an online version of the Russian radio station, reported on the opposition to the sale Thursday with a story under the headline 'US frightened by Russian competitor.'

Vladimir Averchev, a member of Russia's Foreign and Defense Policy Council, commented in the story that "The (U.S.) Congressmen see Russia's nuclear cooperation with Iran as running counter to U.S. national interests."

He went on to state that the attempt to block the deal is to prevent Russia from entering the American nuclear energy market.

"If the deal goes ahead, the Russian company will get a majority stake in the U.S.'s largest uranium pit and obtain a license for one-fifth of the uranium produced in the U.S.," Averchev said.

In fact the processing facilities are in-situ operations, meaning there is no open pit, but instead the uranium is leached from the rock and brought to the surface in a process that is supposed to have less of an environmental impact.

What they said

Sen. Mike Enzi, R, Wyo.: "Sen. Enzi does not want Wyoming uranium in the hands of individuals or countries that want to harm the United States," said press secretary Elly Pickett. "There are formal review processes in place for this type of sale and Senator Enzi will follow those reviews closely."

Sen. John Barrasso, R, Wyo.: "We need to do everything we can to keep nuclear materials out of the hands of countries like Iran. We cannot ignore that Russia has given rise to Iran's domestic nuclear program and has a record of non-compliance on a host of nuclear-related issues. As the federal review process continues, I will make sure America's security remains our top priority."

Rep. Cynthia Lummis, R, Wyo.: "The potential that Wyoming uranium could end up in Iran's possession is disconcerting. A comprehensive look at this national security issue is essential as the federal review proceeds. I will continue to monitor the process closely."

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