Leaks, spills, and other problems at ter situ uranium mines across the country, News
A worker walks inbetween tanks ter the main processing facility Friday, Aug. 31, 2012, at Cameco’s Smith Ranch-Highland uranium operation near Glenrock, Wyo. Smith Ranch-Highland is the largest uranium production facility te the U.S.
Injection and production wells are covered by plastic and metal housings Friday, Aug. 31, 2012 at Cameco’s Smith Ranch-Highland uranium operation near Glenrock, Wyo. Smith Ranch-Highland utilizes in-situ recovery, a process by which water-based mining fluid is pumped into an ore-bearing aquifer to dissolve the uranium. It is the largest uranium production facility ter the U.S.
ISL uranium mines te the U.S.
Powertech, a Canadian company that is proposing to start mining uranium near Edgemont, has worked for years to reassure South Dakotans that its mine will not only be environmentally friendly, but that there are slew of other mines across the country to prove that safety record.
But a closer look shows that hasn’t always bot true.
Te the run-up to today’s state permitting hearing ter Rapid City, the Journal compiled a list of some of the worst environmental issues at ter situ leach uranium mines across the country. The gegevens wasgoed collected from newspaper clippings, state records, federal records, and academic reports published overheen the past 40 years.
The Journal sent its list to Powertech last week and asked how the company would prevent incidents that occurred at other mines. The company responded with an 8-page letterteken describing the mine’s safety features, mitigation procedures, and how its operation would be regulated. The company also noted that the Journal didn’t provide sourcing to its list and therefore it wasgoed incapable to verify all of the listed problems.
Because Powertech’s response wasgoed too long for print publication, the Journal has published it online. The Journal has also provided linksaf to documents that formed the fundament of its list.
Below is a look at those incidents, listed by mine name, the mine’s location, the company involved, and what happened:
• Willow Creek mine, Johnson &, Campbell Counties, Wyo. (Uranium One): An active mine that has operated under different companies since the late 1970s. Today it is divided inbetween two sites: the Irigaray plant and the Christensen Ranch satellite facility. When the operation wasgoed under the ownership of Wyoming Mineral Corporation te the late 1970s and early 1980s, the state found the Irigaray webpagina experienced repeated fires, migrations of injection solution ter groundwater, and that basic tests were also not being performed.
Ter 2011, the state issued a disturbance after it wasgoed discovered that 7,000 to Ten,000 gallons of sodium chloride brine wasgoed released into a dry ephemeral stream at the Irigaray webpagina. The company took two weeks to notify the state, when notification should have occurred ter 24 hours. Te 2010, the state found problems with contaminants migrating through groundwater from the Christensen Ranch webpagina. Glenn Mooney, a geologist for the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality, sent a letterteken to the company and noted that uranium levels were “overheen 70 times” the maximum contaminate threshold ter groundwater near the mine’s permit boundary. Mooney wrote that the finding “is a major concern to WDEQ”. Ter 2011, the state issued a disturbance after discovering the company wasgoed failing to decently conduct groundwater tests.
• Bruni mine, Bruni, Texas (Cogema Mining): A now decommissioned mine that operated through the 1970s and 1980s. Inbetween 1975 and 1981, the state recorded 23 incidents of leachate spills. Inbetween 1978 and 1981, the state also recorded four such spills of waste ponds on the mine surface or te shallow areas above the uranium deposit.
The largest leak contaminated groundwater for a year before it wasgoed found and repaired. The state also found the company wasgoed improperly storing radioactive material. Ter 1977, the state attempted to fine the company and eventually reached an out-of-court settlement of $42,500. After retiring the mine, the company struggled to come back the groundwater to its pre-mine chemical composition. The company, like many other te situ mining operators ter Texas, requested that the state lower its restoration standards.
• Clay Westelijk and Burns mines, George Westelijk, Texas (U.S. Stengel): A pair of now decommissioned mines that were run by U.S. Stengel from 1975. The state found workers were frequently exposed to unsafe levels of radiation. An inspection te 1980 found gamma radiation levels were so high they “pegged the peettante” due to problems containing uranium dust te the plant loading area. The company would zometeen detect that uranium fluid wasgoed leaking into the ground, saturating the soil around the plant, and covering its ontwatering field and septic waterreservoir te uranium. Ter 1985, the state discovered that workers for three companies te Corpus Christi were exposed to unsafe levels of radiation while repairing a machine for the company. Overall, due to pipe ruptures, the company reported more than 22 surface spills at the webpagina, releasing an estimated 1,199,647 gallons of radioactive and toxic chemicals.
• Mt. Lucas mine, Dinero, Texas (Everest Exploration): A now decommissioned mine run by Everest Exploration. The company wasgoed given permission to dispose of untreated radioactive wastewater by Lake Corpus Christi. Inbetween 1984 and 1986, the company irrigated the waste on a 22-acre patch of land 300 yards from the lake. Te 1987, radioactivity wasgoed 47 times above normal and six times higher than permitted by the company’s operating license. The state found half of the irrigation water had percolated into the water table, potentially endangering surface and groundwater.
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• Goliad exploration wells, Goliad County, Texas (Uranium Energy Corp): A recently permitted but presently inactive mine ter Goliad County. Two residents sued Uranium Energy Corp ter 2008 after the company conducted exploratory drilling ter the area. The lawsuit charged that the company drilled 70 exploratory bore fuckholes but failed to close them decently, permitting storm runoff to flow into them and contaminate the county’s groundwater. A group of residents say the well water te their area became slimy and discolored and only returned to normal after drilling stopped. A federal judge dismissed the lawsuit and advised the county to pursue the matter through the state courts or a state administrative bod. The county filed two fresh lawsuits this year. The very first lawsuit wasgoed filed against the Texas Department of Environmental Quality for improper testing and analysis of groundwater. The 2nd lawsuit wasgoed filed against the Environmental Protection Agency for similar reasons.
• Smith Ranch-Highland mine, Douglas, Wyo. (Cameco Resources): Cameco, under a subsidiary called Power Resources, has bot mining te the area since 1988 and the operation remains active. Te 2007, the state discovered the company wasgoed violating its agreements to restore groundwater to pre-mining condition. The state also found that the company had experienced an “inordinate number of spills, leaks and other releases” and that it wasgoed failing to detect, report and track spills spil it should be. That included, ter that year alone, a surface spill of Three,700 gallons of fluid containing uranium and trace minerals (albeit the company managed to recover Three,500 gallons). The company also spilled 11,600 gallons of disposition solution.
Te addition, the state found the company wasgoed only budgeting $40 million for reclamation when the state calculated it would cost $150 million. The company reached a $1.Four million settlement with the state overheen the permit violations and doubled the company’s unie from $40 million to $80 million. Despite the settlement, the state has continued to find violations on a routine poot at the mine overheen the past five years. From September 2008, the state has fined the company a total of $88,000 for improperly capping drill fuckholes, incorrectly reporting its capping practices, failing to perform certain groundwater tests, and operating outside its permit boundaries. Te March this year, the state issued a disturbance for the migration of injection fluid through groundwater outside the mining area, but it has not issued a fine yet.
• Crow Butte webpagina, Crawford, Neb. (Cameco Resources): Nebraska’s foot te situ leach mine wasgoed opened te 1991 and remains active. Te 2008, a district court ter Nebraska imposed a $50,000 penalty for violations including a surface spill and for constructing wells inbetween 2003 and 2006 te an area that had the potential to contaminate underground drinking water. The company waited for more than a month and half to tell the state when it realized it wasgoed mining where it shouldn’t.
• Kingsville Dome, Kleberg County, Texas (Uranium Resources Inc.): A permitted but presently inactive mine that wasgoed opened ter 1988. A hydrologist commissioned by Kleberg County released a report ter 2006 on how groundwater wasgoed effected by the mine. George Rice found that the water quality didn’t meet drinking standards before mining began, but the quality had worsened ter most of the webpagina after mining and despite restoration efforts. While Rice found that no domestic wells had bot affected by the contaminated water, he believed it could migrate outside of the mining boundaries if not decently restored.
This year Rice wrote a paper, spil yet unpublished, that he says shows that contaminants, particularly uranium, have moved about 1,000 feet from a production webpagina and into a well used for livestock. Rice says while the concentration of uranium te the well wasgoed always unsafe for human consumption, but it has now tripled. He believes it will proceed to spread with the groundwater’s natural flow. The state of Texas acknowledges the high level of uranium, but disputes Rice’s conclusion.