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. A uranium mill near Bears Ears National Monument, in southeastern Utah, has applied to the state of Utah to accept the waste which they can process for the uranium. The waste that process generates will be stored on-site at the White Mesa facility, which is about five miles from the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe’s White Mesa reservation.
Locals are concerned.
Groundwater accessed by the reservation has been contaminated for years. The tribe worries it’s because of the uranium mill, the state argues it has nothing to do with it.
“I think it would be the tribe’s preference that the facility shut down,” said Scott Clow, environmental programs director for the tribe. “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.
A company called Energy Fuels Resources owns the White Mesa Mill. Andrew Wheeler, currently the head of the EPA, worked as a lobbyist for Energy Fuels Resources in years past, and helped successfully lobby the Trump administration to shrink the size of the Bears Ears monument to allow for more uranium mining possibilities, arguing it was in the national interest to do so.
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 original deadline for comment was June 5, but it has recently been extended until July 10.