Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Mill termed “perpetual radioactive hazardous waste” facility

By Dick Kamp
Wick Communications Environmental Liaison
Saturday, May 16, 2009

MONTROSE, CO -- Montrose County Planning Director Steve White said Thursday that he would not postpone a May 19 Montrose County Planning Commission public hearing on the Energy Fuels Pinon Ridge uranium mill special use permit. White received a request for hearing postponement and permit denial from the Durango-based Energy Mineral Law Center (EMLC).

EMLC attorney Travis Stills, on behalf of mill-opponents Paradox Valley Sustainability Association, e-mailed White a letter on May 13 requesting the action and stated that,“in addition to the milling facility, the special use permit under consideration could allow a series of specially designed byproduct disposal impoundments for purposes of perpetual disposal and storage of hazardous radioactive wastes, a use which is explicitly prohibited in the Agricultural Zone.”

Still’s letter continued, “...the milling facilities would operate for a period of years and then be removed. By contrast, the associated ‘byproduct materials impoundments’ would become permanent features of the agricultural zone with the impoundments, and the hazardous wastes they contain, deeded to a state or federal agency for perpetual management of these unusually hazardous wastes.” Regarding the wastes, Still’s wrote, “Energy Fuels description is misleading, at best, and lacks any detail on the actual composition of the hazardous wastes which may be placed in the ‘byproduct material impoundments.’ Byproduct material includes, but is not limited to, the tailings from the proposed mill.”

Stills quoted from an EPA document categorizing radioactive hazards from uranium milling (beneficiation) that said, “Waste constituents of concern include (radioactive) radionuclides (radium, radon, thorium, and to a lesser extent lead), arsenic, copper, selenium, vanadium, molybdenum, other heavy metals, and dissolved solids. Brines, spent ion exchange resins, and chemicals used in beneficiation operations are also constituents of wastes generated during beneficiation. Most wastes generated by conventional mills are disposed of in tailings impoundments.

“(The) fate of radionuclides is of special interest in uranium mill tailings….The concentrations of radionuclides in the tailings will vary depending on the leach method used…..typically, tailings will contain between 50 and 86 percent of the original radioactivity of the ores.”

Stills added, “it appears that many of the problems with the public notice and staff review may have been due to the changing nature of the application under current consideration. The current version was provided in publicly reviewable form on May 6, 2009, after the public notice was published.”

“The correct thing to do is hold the hearing”

White said that although Stills might have been raising a legitimate concern, “we’ve long known that the waste cells would contain mill wastes and on the surface this project is one big package that may require more information. The planning commission can certainly ask for that; they could even ask for separate applications with more information and Stills and his group can raise their concerns to them. Why did Travis send this letter at the last minute instead of three weeks ago? Although I haven’t spoken with our attorney, the correct thing to do at this point is to hold the hearing as we’ve announced to the public.”

Could the mill process radioactive waste?

Stills said that he is concerned that not only will the facility become a waste dump containing the elements described by EPA, but that it could theoretically receive ore from regional uranium mines such as those owned by Energy Fuels and other local producers, but also radioactive wastes from other sources for processing. “One example could be wastes from in-situ leach operations or from other sources. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) denied permission to the Canon City mill to import Mayfield, N.J. hazardous and radioactive waste after the county demanded that the state halt efforts by the mill not to import them. The Dennison White Mesa mill in Utah has considered bringing in wastes from Japan and Italy.

“What type of facility is the county considering a special use permit for in an agricultural zone? First, you can’t just suddenly decide that this is a heavy industrial zone, that is not how planning and zoning laws work. At this point this is a facility that has been drawn on the back of an envelope, albeit an expensive one. Will this permit explicitly prohibit the importation of wastes as a feedstock?

“Why does the county want to have a hearing now instead of in the fall, or the spring of next year when we know what the state is approving,” Sills told the Daily Press.

White acknowledged that, the importation of mill feedstock, beyond ore from regional mines, is a serious consideration that goes beyond Still’s issues in his letter. He said, “I would certainly consider that restricting the mill to processing ore would be a reasonable consideration, and I believe that the planning commission and county commissioners would agree with that. If it comes to that, we could certainly put a condition on a permit that prohibits the importation of waste for processing.”

George Glasier, CEO of Energy Fuels, had not responded to requests for comment.


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