White Mesa uranium mill is running as an unregulated radioactive waste site, report states
A new report released Tuesday argues a uranium mill in southeast Utah is acting as an unregulated radioactive waste site. Tribal members and environmentalists are now calling for changes on how it’s run.
White Mesa Mill, which is just south of Blanding, produces and recycles uranium. The report, published by the Grand Canyon Trust, said radioactive waste from industrial and military facilities are sent there. Only a small amount of uranium is extracted from the waste, the report said, and the leftovers remain at the mill.
Tim Peterson, the cultural landscapes director at the Grand Canyon Trust, said over 700 million pounds of waste has been buried at the site.
“It's cheaper for polluters to send their waste to the mill than to a licensed low-level radioactive waste disposal facility,” he said during a press conference Tuesday. “The long and short of the report and our recommendation is that if the mill wants to function like a radioactive waste disposal business, it should be regulated like one.”
The mill — near the border of Bears Ears National Monument — first opened in the 1980s and was supposed to only operate for 15 years, but it stayed open because of its shift in business.
Rep. Raúl Grijalva, D-AZ, said uranium mining and processing is a dirty industry that has a “toxic legacy.” The impacts of it fall heavily on Native American communities.
“Unfortunately, the site tells a story all too common across the western United States,” said Grijalva, who chairs the House Natural Resources Committee. “In an effort to extract as much profits as possible, corporations put communities and their public health and their clean water at risk, these impacts will be felt most directly by communities of color, particularly tribal communities.”
There’s a Ute Mountain Utah tribal community just a few miles from the mill. Yolanda Badback lives there and, along with other community members, has called for the mill to close for years.
Badback said it impacts air and water quality in her community.
“I want the mill to shut down,” she said. “I want it to [be] cleaned up. I want it to move somewhere out in the middle of the desert, somewhere where it's not near no Native American reservation. It hurts us people here in our community because we are downstream from this mill.”
Energy Fuels is the company that operates the mill. In an emailed statement to KUER, a spokesperson said it’s a “fully permitted uranium mill.” It said the site is not a “waste dump” and has a “world-leading recycling program.”