No Upside to Living Downwind From a Uranium Mill
Aug 13, 2009 | 1451 views | 0 0 comments | 17 17 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Guest Commentary

What do you think about having a uranium mill located nearby? What do you think about seeing a redevelopment of uranium mining in San Miguel County? Energy Fuels has submitted a Special Use Permit application for the Piñon Ridge Uranium Mill to Montrose County. The proposed mill site is in the Paradox Valley, adjacent to Hwy 90, six miles from the Dolores River. The Montrose County Planning Department has recommended approval with 16 conditions.

Why should we care? The impacts of the uranium industry will be felt in this region and they will affect our quality of life. A new mill will result in redevelopment of uranium leases in the Uravan Mineral Belt bordering the San Miguel and Dolores Rivers. The mill itself will affect water quality and quantity, it will affect air quality up to 50 miles away, ore will come from more than 100 miles away and trucks will be hauling radioactive materials and chemicals on numerous Western Colorado roads. Currently, Telluride can advertise as having a pristine environment for recreational opportunities. However, Telluride’s slogan could change from “the most beautiful place you’ll ever ski” to “the most harmful air you’ll ever breathe.”

Regionally, what are impacts of mines and mills? A vanadium mill is being reclaimed at Silverpick Road. Historically, uranium was a by-product of vanadium milling and it was discarded in the mill tailings. Now, the uranium is being removed because the dangers of exposure are known, more than 50 years after the mill closed. Last year the Colorado Department of Health and Environment recommended that those who commute through the cleanup zone wear dust masks.

The Cotter Uranium Mill in Canon City, Colo., has operated since the 1950s. It is located in a residential area with more than 15,000 people and though it has been declared a superfund site for 25 years, it has not been cleaned up. Local groundwater is contaminated from leaking liners, so the mill dried its tailings, resulting in a significant increase in radon levels in the air.

The nation’s only operating uranium mill, White Mesa, in Blanding, Utah, also is suspected of liner leakage under the tailings. It operates at half-capacity because the cost of milling is higher than the price of uranium. To keep operating at a profit, the mill processes and stores radioactive waste on site, an even greater danger to public health and the environment.

In Grand Junction, where there was a uranium mill, tailings cells are still present. The cells were only designed to store milling waste, but the federal government is currently considering disposing mercury there.

The cleanup of the Atlas mill tailings in Moab will cost up to $1 billion, but Atlas declared bankruptcy and forfeited its reclamation bond. Federal stimulus money prompted the start of remediation this year.

Some 3,097 abandoned uranium mines in Colorado are polluting air, water and soil. San Miguel County is one of only five counties in the entire nation that make up the Department of Energy’s Uranium Lease Tracts. Clearly, the uranium industry has left a legacy of environmental damage in this area, and if the proposed Piñon Ridge Mill is constructed, more is sure to come.

What can you do?

Please attend the Commissioner meeting at the Nucla High School tonight at 5:30 p.m. There will be a peaceful protest outside the school at 4 p.m. Please join us in writing letters to the Montrose County Commissioners. We encourage you to submit concerns to the Montrose County BOCC prior to the meeting.

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