[ RadSafe ] FW: [NucNews] America's Greatest Atomic Radiation Crisis

Philip Egidi pvegidi at smtpgate.dphe.state.co.us
Mon Dec 3 12:36:51 CST 2007

Greetings from Grand Junction - 2007.

Yes, this is a VERY OLD article, as is mentioned at the end of the post.  It is a valuable posting for historical purposes, particularly the opposition by industry and the AEC (in some ways that persisted for decades) to address the problems as they mounted.  The focus was on uranium as source material, not the waste radium.  AEC did not want to regulate it (still really doesn't in some opinions), the States didn't have the resources, and the millers didn't want to spend the money until they were forced to.  The result was pollution of rivers (the Animas River was dead for 20 miles below its mill in the early 60s), the piles were uncovered and abandoned, and is some places, like Grand Junction, were allowed to be taken and used off site for all kinks of uses.  It took years, but it did get addressed.  A very interesting book on the genesis of this problem, and the considerable hurdles that had to be overcome to regulate these sites in the first place can be found in:

"Warm Sands, Uranium Mill Tailings Policy in the Atomic West" by Eric Mogren.  University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque NM, 2002.  ISBN 0-8263-2280-8.

Some of the people discussed in that article came to be very strong proponents of regulation of mill tailings, particularly Bud Franz, who is now retired and still living in Grand Junction (I work in the same office as the group he used to manage), and Dr. Geno Saccomano, who ended up doing considerable research on cancer in uranium miners.  His last paper published after his death found an increase in cancer for non-smoking miners as well as those who smoked.

Once the UMTRA law was passed in late 1978, things started to change.  

The DOE spent a lot of tax dollars (over $1.4 Billion US) cleaning up the mill tailings under Grand Junction, Rifle, Durango, Gunnison mill sites and vicinity properties.  Hardly any funds were expended to clean up abandoned uranium mines when compared to the mills.  Some Federal Agencies and some States have programs to try and reclaim the worst mines and lease tracks, but it is a drop in the bucket.  The native Americans did not fare well either, where a lot of residual contamination remains on the reservations from abandoned uranium mines. This has been highlighted recently in the LA Times and in Congressional hearings.

There were about 22 mills cleaned up under the DOE portion of UMTRA (called Title I).  DOE is still addressing groundwater contamination at some of those sites.  
One new one for DOE is Moab: http://www.gjem.energy.gov/ because the licensee declared bankruptcy and left NRC holding the bag without enough surety bonds on the site.  Congress transferred it from Title II to Title I a few years ago so the tax money could be used to clean up the site.  That project is in final planning stages, with cleanup planned over the next decade or so, depending on funding.

Title II of UMTRA (regulated by NRC or the Agreement States) is ongoing, as it addresses the mills that had a license in November 1978, or got one since.  

DOE will be the long term custodian as they are cleaned up and closed out.

This does not include in-situ mining of uranium, which is also being used and is on the rise in the west.

The UMTRA program cleaned up over I think 4,000 properties in Grand Junction alone.  I personally did over 1,000 surveys of properties looking for tailings in the 1980s into the early 90s for ORAU/ORISE/ORNL.  The program ended around 1998, although the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment maintains a small post-UMTRA program that tracks sites that weren't cleaned up (padding for sewer lines are an example).  

New properties that are getting developed require either a records search showing the results of prior surveys/cleanups or a new gamma survey is done by the Department to check for tailings.  An estimated 500,000 tons of tailings might still be present under Grand Junction.  We still find properties that fell through the cracks or were "owner refusals" at the time of the program.  Since it was voluntary, not all people welcomed the government coming on their property and doing these surveys and cleanups.  Now their children are stuck with the properties and are on the hook to clean them up.  I surveyed one last week in Colorado that had never been known about and had 49 pCi/L radon in one bedroom and gamma exposure rates of about 130 uR/h.  The people have moved out of the house and are trying to figure out how to clean it up.

The DOE maintains a disposal cell outside Grand Junction that is opened annually to accept new tailings.  The remaining cells around the other 22 sites are closed and checked annually by DOE and the state.

Theses lessons are not lost on those of us who are now facing the task of tracking and regulating the new resurgence in uranium mining and milling in the western states.  Just last week I attended a planning commission hearing for a conditional use permit for a revived uranium mine complex in Colorado (it passed).

 We are anticipating at least one new conventional uranium mill and one in-situ mill application to come in for review in the next year or so.  The Department's Radioactive Materials Program doesn't regulate mining, that is under MSHA and Minerals and Geology (or whatever they are called these days), but we do regulate uranium milling.  Colorado still has one uranium mill that tries to operate (Cotter in Canon City), but they have had their problems and are not operational these days.  I spend my days (actually the last 25 years) with one foot in the past and the other in the future.  

NRC is evaluating a generic EIS for in-situ uranium mining (the comment period just ended the other day), as well as looking at some tweaking of the regulations.  My opinion is that the EIS for conventional uranium milling should also be looked at again, as it is tremendously outdated.  We will see what NRC decides in the near future.  With uranium prices rebounding, and a push for nuclear power, the front end of the fuel cycle needs to be considered too.  The regulations for uranium miners, under MSHA, have not been updated in years, and are outdated, and do not offer the same level of protection as other radiation workers get.  This may be hopefully addressed in the near future.

Stay tuned.

Phil Egidi
Radiation Management Unit
Radiation Control Program
Hazardous Materials and Waste Management Division

222 S. 6th St. Rm. 232
Grand Junction, CO 81501
(970) 248-7162
(970) 248-7198 fax

alternate numbers:
(303)759-5355 (fax)

>>> Steven Dapra <sjd at swcp.com> 12/02/07 12:05 PM >>>
Dec. 2

         Note the qualifier below that this tailings article is from the 
1970s.  This is ooooold news.  Hasn't the UMTRA project taken care of all 
the tailings?

         Norm:  WHY did you post this here??  (Not that I expect an answer 
of course . . . .)

Steven Dapra

At 12:46 PM 12/2/07 -0500, Norm Cohen wrote:
>Uranium tailings threaten health out west.
>Coalition for Peace and Justice; UNPLUG Salem Campaign, 321 Barr Ave,
>Linwood; NJ; 08221; 609-601-8583; Cell Phone - 609-335-8176; MySpace
>websites: www.coalitionforpeaceandjustice.org 
>                www.unplugsalem.org 
>From: NucNews at yahoogroups.com [mailto:NucNews at yahoogroups.com] On Behalf Of
>NO Nukes South Australia
>Sent: Friday, November 30, 2007 7:34 PM
>To: NucNews at yahoogroups.com 
>Subject: [NucNews] America's Greatest Atomic Radiation Crisis
>By Don Munson
>Ever hear of uranium "tailings"? It's a fine,
>sand-like end product from the dozens of uranium
>ore-processing plants scattered throughout the
>Far West. Thought to be of no value, or danger,
>hundreds of thousands of tons of this material
>were dumped on the plains, to be snatched up by
>building contractors who used it on construction
>jobs-like hospitals, homes, schools and churches.
>Now, it's been discovered, the stuff is
>radioactively hot and we are facing a catastrophe
>of monumental proportions.


>** THE END **
>Note: This article was from the 1970's.


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