EPA prohibits White Mesa Mill from receiving Superfund waste

Energy Fuels Resources was found in violation for improper handling of radioactive waste storage.

 

Toxic waste cells surround the White Mesa Mill near the Ute Mountain Ute community of White Mesa, Utah.

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BACKSTORY
For 40 years, the White Mesa Mill has processed uranium ore next to the Ute Mountain Ute Reservation in southeast Utah. Tribal members have fought for decades to close it, saying that the mill and its radioactive byproducts, stored in 40-acre tailings cells, are harmful to their health, groundwater and land. In November, High Country News reported on the mill’s plans to import 2,000 drums of radioactive waste from Estonia (“The nation’s last uranium mill plans to import Estonia’s radioactive waste,” November 2021).

FOLLOWUP
On Dec. 2, 2021, the Environmental Protection Agency issued an “unacceptability notice” to the mill’s owner, Energy Fuels Resources, that prohibits it from accepting waste from Superfund sites. An aerial photo of an uncovered tailings cell from the nonprofit EcoFlight, which supported the photography for the HCN story, accompanied by correspondence from the Ute Mountain Ute tribe, led to the order, which called the violation “egregious” and warned that the uncovered material could be emitting approximately 10 times more radon than a covered cell.

Jessica Douglas is a member of the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians and a former staff writer for High Country News. She writes from Portland, Oregon. We welcome reader letters. Email High Country News at [email protected] or submit a letter to the editor. See our letters to the editor policy.

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