Group files uranium mill suit

Says Energy Fuels exceeds radon emissions

Grand Canyon Trust followed through on its promise to sue Energy Fuels Resources for alleged environmental violations at the White Mesa uranium mill near Blanding, Utah.

The civil suit was filed April 3 in Federal District court in Salt Lake City. Grand Canyon Trust filed a notice of intent to sue on Jan. 29.

Grand Canyon Trust says Energy Fuels has exceeded the limit for radon emissions at the mill and is operating too many on-site waste pits allowed for under regulatory laws.

“Radiological pollution is dangerous, and uranium mills must comply with laws lessening that danger,” said Anne Mariah Tapp, lead attorney for Grand Canyon Trust.

The suit cites data showing that in 2012 and 2013, radon-222 emissions at the mill exceeded hazardous air pollutants standards under the Clean Air Act. Exposure to radon-222 is linked to cancer, genetic defects, and increased mortality.

The White Mesa Mill is the only conventional uranium mill operating today in the U.S. It processes ore from regional uranium mines, including near Grand Canyon National Park. According to the Trust, the mill also receives, processes, and disposes of radioactive wastes called “alternative feed” from Superfund sites in the U.S.

The mill processes uranium ore into yellow cake, which is shipped to processing plants and made into fuel rods for nuclear power plants. For every pound of yellow cake produced, about 1 ton of still-radioactive processing wastes is left at the mill stored in tailings cells, or impoundments.

According to the filing, the mill is operating six impoundments, though only two are allowed under hazardous materials law.

Regulations limit the number of tailings impoundments to allow for remediation once filled and to avoid closures that could leave tailing ponds.

“The ongoing costs of the abandoned Atlas uranium mill outside Moab, Utah, is expected to exceed $1 billion, a cost borne by taxpayers,” Tapp said.

Grand Canyon Trust claims that the Utah Department of Environmental Quality, Division of Radiation Control authorizes hazardous material storage practices at White Mesa that are out of compliance with environmental laws.

“It this mill is going to operate, it needs to be in compliance with tight laws intended to protect the public,” Tapp said.

Energy Fuels disagrees and said the situation is being resolved.

“None of these matters have resulted in a violation,” said Curtis Moore, an spokesman for Energy Fuels. “The issues raised by this group are either inaccurate, have been addressed, or are being addressed as part of the normal regulatory processes.”

Grand Canyon Trust seeks civil penalties of up to $37,500 per day, per violation and mitigation.

Energy Fuels announced in December that it plans to close the mill in 2014 and potentially reopen it in 2015. Tapp said the mill continues to operate as of April.

jmimiaga@cortezjournal.com