Uranium

Irina Zhorov

HOST: Everyone is predicting a uranium boom internationally and Wyoming has the largest deposits in the U.S. The state has a legacy of uranium mining, as well. Wyoming Public Radio’s Irina Zhorov looks at the boom and its history.

Dean Fitzgerald

HOST: When the Cold War caused a uranium boom in the 1950s, soil and water in the state suffered contamination. Reclamation has improved the landscape, and regulation is catching up with the industry  but it’s not perfect yet. Wyoming Public Radio’s Rebecca Martinez reports.

REBECCA MARTINEZ: Ore from Wyoming’s rich uranium deposits was refined and concentrated into yellowcake at mills in the state before being sent to processing and enrichment facilities elsewhere. The mills produced large amounts of sandy waste called tailings, which still contained uranium.

Uranium industry growth has challenges

Jun 15, 2012

Many people hope that Wyoming’s uranium industry will become much more active, as interest in nuclear energy grows. 

University of Wyoming Ag Economist Tex Taylor says there is a lot of potential for increased employment and tax revenue for the state.  But Wyoming Senator Eli Bebout, who chairs the Senate Minerals, Business and Economic Development Committee, says new and smaller companies are often stymied by the state and federal permitting process and other regulatory hurdles. 

Tristan Ahtone

HOST: As we just heard, the uranium industry may have a long way to go in earning back the public’s trust, especially on the Wind River Reservation. In 2010, the Department of Energy released well monitoring data from the Wind River Reservation. What they found was that uranium levels in a number of their wells had spiked up to 100 times the legal limit. In early May the Department of Energy released tap test results showing uranium levels nearly twice the legal limit, but later said the results were anomalies.

With uranium mining making a comeback across the country and especially Wyoming, a recent government report recommends that better coordination between federal agencies is needed for financial assurances  and that agencies need to update databases to find out how many abandoned mines actually exist in the U.S.

Government Accountability Office and environmental director, Anu Mittal  says in situ mining - a process where operators inject chemicals and water underground to pump uranium back to the surface for processing, may also pose future problems.

The Department of Energy announced Friday that water being provided to residents of the Wind River Reservation is safe to drink.

Last week, DOE officials confirmed that tap water in four households on the reservation showed elevated levels of uranium nearly twice the legal limit.

This week, the DOE’s April Gil said in a statement that the elevated levels were inaccurate, the tap water has been retested, and is safe for consumption.

Last week, the Department of Energy announced that uranium at nearly twice the legal limit had been found in the tap water of four households on the Wind River Reservation. The event marks another incident in a long and troubled history in the area.  Wyoming Public Radio's Tristan Ahtone brings us this report on the find.

Tribal officials on the Wind River Reservation continue to seek answers after the Department of Energy announced that uranium was found in some residents' tap water. DOE officials announced last week that data collected in the fall indicated that four households near a former uranium waste site had levels of uranium nearly twice the legal limit. Dean Goggles is executive Director for the Wind River Environmental Quality Commission. He says tribal members are currently faced with more questions than answers.

Tribal officials on the Wind River Reservation continue to seek answers after the Department of Energy announced that uranium was found in some residents' tap water.

DOE officials announced Wednesday evening that data collected last fall indicated that four households near a former uranium waste site had levels of uranium nearly twice the legal limit.

Dean Goggles is executive Director for the Wind River Environmental Quality Commission.

 

The BLM has drafted an Environmental Impact Statement on a proposed uranium mine near Rawlins. The project would stretch over more than 4,000 acres of land and would use in-situ technology, where they inject fluid into the ground to extract the uranium and then bring it to the surface to process.

Dennis Carpenter, the BLM’s Rawlins Field Manager, says the project doesn’t raise many concerns.

“It’s a pretty small project by most of our standards,” Carpenter said, adding that the area has been mined in the past.

In a February letter to the Department of Energy, Gov. Matt Mead expressed concern that the passive handling of uranium contamination on the Wind River Reservation might not be living up to the DOE’s remedial action plan.

The DOE asserted that the site would clean itself up after 100 years, and despite that uranium tailings were removed from the site decades ago, spikes in uranium were measured in DOE monitoring wells in 2010.

With problems over water contamination in the town of Pavillion, and possible actions to remediate a contaminated uranium site on the Wind River Reservation,  tribal officials have pushed to be the lead agency in both situations, as the areas impacted are within the boundaries of the reservation and impact tribal trust assets.

The Wyoming Senate has given initial approval to a Joint Resolution asking Congress to increase funding and monitoring at the Riverton Uranium Mill Tailings remediation site.  Mill Tailings at the site, on the Wind River Reservation, constitute contaminated materials left over from the former Susquehanna-Western uranium mill that operated in the 50’s and 60’s.

Senator Cale Case told the Senate that the federal government had expected the site to naturally clean itself up after the company ceased operation in the area.  However, he says that hasn’t been the case…

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