Nuclear power plants generate electricity through nuclear fission, or the splitting of large atoms into smaller parts. Nuclear fission generates heat, which is used to create steam and drive a turbine.
Currently, Colorado has no nuclear power plants. Historically, Colorado’s only nuclear generating facility, Fort St. Vrain, began construction in 1968 near Platteville. After several years of construction and testing, the facility began generating electricity in 1976. The experimental nature of the plant led to ongoing maintenance problems, which shuttered the plant in 1989. By 1992, the facility was decommissioned and all of the nuclear fuel was transported off-site to a U.S. Department of Energy managed facility. Today, the Fort St. Vrain site is utilized as a natural gas generating plant.
Uranium mining has a long history in Colorado. Uranium minerals were first discovered at a gold mine near Central City in 1871, but the 1881 discovery on Roc Creek in Montrose County launched the Uravan Mineral Belt, the country’s oldest uranium mining district. The market for uranium declined in the 1970s after increasing concerns with nuclear power. While the uranium market experienced a resurgence in 2003, declining market prices put a halt to ore production in Colorado by 2009.
As of 2015, Colorado has no active uranium mines or mills. However, over 100 years of uranium mining and processing has had an impact on Colorado’s natural environment. For example, former mill sites in Uravan and Canon City are listed as EPA Superfund sites. In 2010, new regulations were established to protect groundwater during in-situ uranium mining and new rules increased the disclosure requirements of prospecting activities.