Uranium Mills in Utah

Oct 10, 2016

White Mesa Uranium Mill

 

The White Mesa Mill is the only conventional uranium mill licensed to operate in the United States. Through subsidiaries, Canada-based Energy Fuels Inc. owns and operates the mill and uranium mines that supply ore to the mill. The mill is located three miles north of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe’s White Mesa Ute community and six miles south of Blanding, Utah. It was built in 1979 to process uranium ore from the Colorado Plateau. In 1987, it began receiving “alternate feed material” (uranium-bearing radioactive waste) for processing. From 1999 to the early 2000s, the mill processed only alternate feed. Since then, the mill has intermittently processed both uranium ore and alternate feed from across North America. Energy Fuels disposes of the mill’s radioactive and toxic waste tailings in five “impoundments” that take up about 275 acres next to the mill.  These impoundments receive tailings, including waste processing solutions, that are laden with radioactive and toxic elements.

 

There are significant public and environmental health concerns related to the White Mesa Mill. Cells 1, 2, and 3 at the White Mesa Mill were constructed with thin plastic liners between two layers of crushed rock. The liners in those cells had a useful life of 20 years when they were installed in the early 1980s and have never been replaced.  Cells 1, 2, and 3 leak detection system lacks a double liner and will not detect a leak until groundwater has already been contaminated.  There are plumes of increased levels of nitrate, nitrite, and chloride in the perched aquifer beneath the mill site; experts posit that this indicates tailing cell leakage into the underlying groundwater.

 

The mill emits radioactive and toxic air pollutants including radon and thoron (gases) and sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides (particulates). Windblown particulates and gases travel off-site. Energy Fuels has stockpiled both ore and alternate feed on-site. Many of the stockpiled materials are not adequately covered and can blow off-site. White Mesa residents report smelling pollutants from the mill. In both 2012 and 2013, radon emissions from Cell 2 at the Mill exceeded the limits established by the Clean Air Act. The Grand Canyon Trust is in the midst of a citizen suit against the White Mesa Mill owners to force compliance with the Clean Air Act.

 

Daneros Uranium Mine

 

The Daneros Mine is an existing small - 4.5 acre - uranium mine located in the heart of the Bears Ears region, between Natural Bridges National Monument and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. BLM is considering expanding the mine by ten fold, to over 45 acres and allowing the life of the mine to be extended by 13 years. If the expansion is approved, a half a million tons of ore would be trucked through the proposed Bears Ears National Monument and along Southeastern Utah’s main tourist roads to the White Mesa Mill, a site already plagued by contamination. The Grand Canyon Trust, SUWA, NPCA, and others urged BLM to prepare a full-blown EIS rather than making the decision based on an EA. BLM's decision on the expansion is currently pending.

 

Shootaring Canyon Uranium Mill

The Shootaring Canyon Uranium Mill is just five miles from the small community of Ticaboo Utah and sits on the doorstep of the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, less than ten miles from Lake Powell and the Glen Canyon NRA. Just 140 feet below the Mill is a pristine groundwater aquifer. This Mill has been in standby since 1983 through a succession of owners. For over 34 years, about 250,000 cubic yards of uranium mill tailings have been sitting in a clay-lined tailings impoundment next to the Mill itself. Another 39,100 cubic yards of wastes from the clean-up of old uranium projects are also on the Mill site as well as 250,000 pounds of uranium ore. The Utah Division of Waste Management and Radiation Control is currently deciding whether to renew the Mill's radioactive material license or begin reclamation. The Grand Canyon Trust is urging the State of Utah to commence reclamation immediately especially in light of information that reveals that the current owner of the Mill - Anfield Resources - lacks the capital to support Mill ownership much less to operate it responsibly.

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