Members of the Ute Tribe’s White Mesa reservation are concerned about a new plan proposed by a uranium mill near Bears Ears National Monument in southeastern Utah.
Because this mill has recently applied to the state of Utah to accept radioactive waste from Eastern Europe which it would then process for uranium.
- Related: Plans Finalized to Open Up Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante to Drilling, Mining, and Cattle-Grazing
According to the Adventure Journal, there is a metals plant in the Eastern European nation of Estonia that generates a surplus of uranium-laced waste, as much as 660 tons per year. The White Mesa uranium mill wants to process that waste to scrap any remaining uranium it may contain and store it on-site. The facility is located 5 miles away from the Mountain Ute Tribe’s White Mesa reservation.
According to the tribe, groundwater accessed by the reservation has been contaminated for years and they worry that it’s because of the uranium mill. Meanwhile, the state argues it has nothing to do with it.
“I think it would be the tribe’s preference that the facility shut down,” Scott Clow, the environmental programs director for the tribe, told The Journal. “But that’s a big ask there. The mill has been there for 38 years now, and that’s a pretty short window of time compared to how long the tribe was there before and how long the tribe is going to be there after the mill, and all of that contamination.”
“The mill has already become the cheapest alternative for disposal of low-level radioactive waste in North America. Now, it appears that it may become a destination for the materials from around the globe. That is disconcerting and dangerous,” he said.
Justin Housman with the Adventure Journal reports that “Estonia limits how much of the radioactive material the metals processing plant can store, out of safety concerns, which is why the plant is looking for a place to ship the waste tailings. The White Mesa Mill is the only mill in the country capable of extracting the uranium from the Estonian tailings.”
The Utah Department of Environmental Quality has asked for public comment before final approval of the shipments can proceed. The deadline for comment was originally June 5, but it has recently been extended until July 10, The Adventure Journal reports.