Uranium Mining Violations
Issues: Climate, Mining
Partners: Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition, Grand Canyon Trust
Airport Origin : Blanding, UT
Our August 4th overflight revealed that the White Mesa uranium mill is currently in violation of regulatory requirements to keep liquid cover over one of the cells to reduce radon gas emissions.
The Ute Mountain Utes used the flight and images to immediately get a message out to EPA to spur action on their part.
The White Mesa Mill is the only conventional uranium mill in the country. It also receives and processes waste from other contaminated sites and is looking to accept waste from Japan and Estonia. The mill still uses old obsolete plastic pit liners. It is located right next to the White Mesa Ute community, which has long been concerned about the impacts community members will face now and after the mill closes, leaving behind hundreds of acres of toxic and radioactive waste. There is confirmed shallow groundwater contamination beneath the mill, and monitoring wells around the mill have been showing increasing levels of contamination.
White Mesa is now a world destination for certain types of radioactive waste materials. White Mesa has requested licensing for the construction of two more tailings cells in anticipation of this expanding market.
The violation we captured in this overflight further bolsters the argument that the facility should not be deemed suitable for Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA). The EPA has been asked to intervene and prevent the White Mesa community from becoming another environmental justice disaster.
The Trump administration sought to create a “strategic uranium reserve” which would basically encourage uranium production and subsidize a uranium boom in the US. Even though a Government Accountability Office report found the economics of the concept to be inadequate, seed money was set aside for the project at the end of 2020. This is concerning because the US has no shortage of uranium. Until recently, the government was actually getting rid of excess uranium. It is now up to the Biden administration whether to proceed with the program or not. There is now the possibility of new uranium development that could put Bears Ears, Grand Canyon and Native communities on the frontlines of the impacts from uranium.
Despite the program being omitted from the 2022 budget, the Department of Energy recently announced that it will be starting a process to create a uranium reserve and is opening up the program for public input here