Suit against mill expands

Grand Canyon Trust claims radon emissions violate Clean Air Act

The environmental group Grand Canyon Trust has expanded its lawsuit against the White Mesa uranium mill for allegedly violating Clean Air Act standards for radon pollution.

The mill in southeast Utah is owned by Energy Fuels. It processes ore from regional uranium mines, including those near Grand Canyon National Park.

Grand Canyon Trust’s suit in April claims the company violated radon-222 pollution limits in 2012 and 2013 at one of its tailings impoundments and was operating too many waste cells.

On July 30, the Trust amended its April lawsuit.

According to Grand Canyon Trust, “records show that a second impoundment, cell 3, also exceeded radon-222 pollution limits in 2013. Energy Fuels violated pollution monitoring and reporting requirements.”

The suit claims the Clean Air Act violations threaten the communities of Blanding, Utah, and White Mesa, a satellite community of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe.

Excessive exposure to radon-222 has been linked to cancer and increased mortality rates, according to the National Academy of Sciences.

The Trust also alleges the mill operates six instead of the allowed two impoundments.

The Clean Air Act limits the number of tailing impoundments at uranium mills to ensure ongoing remediation, said Taylor McKinnon, director of energy for Grand Canyon Trust. The regulation is to prevent mill owners from abandoning polluted sites.

Citing poor market conditions, Energy Fuels announced in December that it plans to close the mill in 2014 and potentially reopen it in 2015.

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, approximately 1 ton of still-radioactive processing wastes is left at the mill stored in tailings cells, also called impoundments.

Energy Fuels spokesman Curtis Moore said the company disagrees with the claims and that matters are being resolved.