Flooding Could Shed Light On Contaminants At Uranium Tailings Site

May 22, 2014

The Department of Energy is closely monitoring the potential for flooding this spring at the site of a former uranium mill on the Wind River Indian Reservation. Tailings from the mill contaminated groundwater in the area decades ago. DOE had planned to let the uranium dissipate naturally over the next century, then flooding in 2010 caused an unexpected spike in contamination levels.

Site manager Bill Dam says the flooding revealed there was more uranium at the site than previous estimates, and he says if the nearby Wind or Little Wind rivers flood this year, DOE will be out sampling, to see if there’s a similar spike.

“If we don’t see a spike, we would suspect that the source was removed by the last flooding event,” Dam says.

The DOE hasn’t decided whether it needs to take a more proactive approach to cleaning up the site, but he says the agency is evaluating a number of options. Dam stresses that flooding won’t have an impact on the local drinking water supply, which is piped in from eight miles upstream.