Contamination seeps, or floods,
into groundwater and surface water
From the Exploration Drilling to Fuel Production, uranium extraction and processing leaves behind a legacy of toxic and radioactive waste to be dealt with by the public it affects and the governmental agencies who have to oversee its cleanup.
Impoundment Dam Failures
Comurhex Malvési conversion plant - France 2004 & 2006
On March 20, 2004, a dam failure at the Malvési conversion plant released approx. 30,000 cubic metres of liquid and slurries. On March 5, 2006, strong winds resulted in an overflow of several decantation ponds. On June 20, 2006, a further spill of an unreported amount. www.wise-uranium.org/mdaf.html
Cotter Uranium Mill - Tailings overflow 1965 and 1970
Canon City, CO
The Mill was built in 1958, using unlined tailings impoundments. An ephemeral stream, Sand Creek, flowed above and underground from the mountains and through the Mill property, and then through a gap in a ridge into the Lincoln Park garden community made up of hundreds of homes on small acreages. Between 1965 and 1970, heavy rains flooded tailings and contaminated soils into the area. In 1965, a particularly violent flood caused the tailings impoundments to overflow and flood into the community. Employees, like Mr. Lynn Boughton, head chemist at the Mill, reported watching the tailings overflow and flood into Lincoln Park in 1965. Click to read Boughton news article quote.
Further proof of these tailings dam failures are found in a USEPA report explaining that aerial photography of the Mill from 1970 showed overflow channels from Pond 3 that carried tailings into Sand Creek. Read USEPA report. A CDPHE Cotter Chronology Report also records the 1970 tailings overflow with recommendation that Pond #3 be emptied. The Chronology notation for 1975, five years later, indicates that Pond 3 was still overflowing. Read CDPHE report. In 1972 an earthen Soil Conservation Service Dam was finally built to prevent Cotter contaminates flooding into Lincoln Park. Read 1971 news article.
The 1965 - 1970 tailings floods are not recorded by current regulatory agencies, or listed on WISE-Uranium website under tailings dam failures, because the now defunct Atomic Energy Commission was the regulator at the time. When the NRC took over for the AEC, the violations cited by Cotter for eighteen releases did not evidently transfer, nor did they transfer to the CDPHE when the State of Colorado took over regulation of the Mill. This is an example of the problem with faulty institutional memory, that such horrendous events happened - and nobody searching records today will easily find the truth.
Paducah Enrichment Facility
CFCs – Freon – Destroys the Ozone Layer. The Paducah facility is exempt from the 1987 Montreal Protocol & Clean Air Act prohibiting freon use. In 2002, Paducah emitted 55% of all CFCs from large users in the US. CFCs last up to 100 years in the stratosphere, eating away at the Ozone Layer.
Greenhouse Gas Emissions
70% of Paducah's operating expense is from electricity usage. The facility uses 1,900 Megawatts per hour, enough electricity to power Cleveland, and 1/10th of the electricity used in Ohio. The electricity used, to make fuel for a nuclear reactor to make "electricity," is from three coal-fired electrical plants that pour CO2s, greenhouse gas, into the environment contributing to global warming.
"Every uranium mill"...
“Every uranium mill has extensive, localized groundwater contaminant plumes that are still years, if not decades, from being fully remediated.” Source: STATEMENT OF CHRIS SHUEY; Before the Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands; Natural Resources Committee; U.S. House of Representatives; March 28, 2008. Click to read Chris Shuey's report to Congress
Many fail to realize there is a danger from uraniuim mills because you cannot see, hear or smell most contamination from mills. Uranium mill tailings are deposited in impoundment ponds with water as cover to prevent dust and radon emissions. In the mid-20th Century these were unlined pits allowing contaminants to poison watersheds, aquifers and wells. By the early 1980’s impoundments were required to be lined, and many old mills were closed or went on Standby. In Colorado alone, at least eight mills have been closed due to contamination to community water and soil. The small town of Uravan, CO was literally bulldozed under at a cost of $120 Million - most paid by taxpayers. The community near Cotter is in a Catch-22 situation: If the impoundments are kept full, there is danger of overtopping or the liner continuing to leak or blow out. If you dry the impoundment to prevent leakage or overtopping, radon emissions increase.
After years of investigation, the Cotter Mill and surrounding community of Lincoln Park was declared a Superfund Site in 1984 due to water and soil contamination. Twenty-five years later, private wells and groundwater in Lincoln Park are still contaminated with uranium and molybdenum, and it is still a Superfund Site.
Even with the best of intentions, leakage occurs through the plastic liners at tailings ponds. It’s been said by many that all impoundments leak. In 2006, after an investigation of Cotter’s Primary Impoundment, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment finally admitted that it was leaking. Click to read the CDPHE’s evaluation of leakage at Cotter.
Cotter and the surrounding community have been a Superfund Site since 1984. Groundwater contamination persists. A new area of the groundwater contamination plume was finally acknowledged beneath a golf course adjacent to the mill. Click to read CDPHE Notice of Violation. Since 2000, the Cotter Mill has been sited with close to a hundred violations. In 2005, a spill of solvents pooled in a pond and killed 40 migratory birds, which brought a federal violation and a fine and restitution of $30,000 to the Cotter Corporation in 2007. Click to see the enlarged and persistent Uranium and Molybdenum Plumein 2007.
Air and Soil Contamination
Radioactive and heavy metal dust emissions occur during ore delivery, storage, grinding, and the yellowcake drying process. Cotter’s 2007 air permit allows 1,135 lb/yr of emissions or dust from radioactive material, and over 180 lb/yr of carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, particulate matter and volatile organic compounds. Click to read Cotter's Air Permit. We've been unable to locate an air permit for Denison's White Mesa Mill that limits radionuclide emissions, but the rest of the contaminants emissions are limited to 106 tons/year. Click to read White Mesa's Air Construction Permit.
In December 2005, the Cotter Mill was cited with violations for operating furnaces after the baghouses were burned out. Baghouses are filters that prevent emissions of radioactive dust. Cotter’s nearest neighbor is approximately one-quarter of a mile away, and a golf course is right next door. Approximately 6-8,000 people live inside a 2-mile radius of the Cotter Mill, in spite of the fact that federal regulations require a mill to be "remote from a population." Contaminated wells are used to irrigate throughout the area, depositing contaminants on surface soils and vegetation. Click to read Baghouse Violation.
RADON - Danger from Air, Soil and Water. Both the Cotter Uranium Mill and White Mesa radon emissions are limited by federal regulations, because of health hazards. Radon emissions occur throughout the facilities, and from the tailings impoundments, due to radium in uranium ore, which becomes waste after processing. Emissions from the tailings impoundments at Cotter have recently increased dramatically due to evaporation to prevent leakage through the liner, thus exposing tailings. In 2.5 days, Radon gas attaches to dust particles and becomes radioactive lead (PB210) that deposits in soils and is resuspended each time the wind blows, and radon travels in groundwater. If you have not breathed it in by then, you might eat it as dust settling on garden vegetables or fruits.
Federal regulations limit radon from tailings at 20 pCi/m2-sec. When Cotter began drying the impoundment in 2006, the annual tests doubled emissions by 2007, from 6 pCi/m2-sec to 14 pCi/m2-sec. The June 2008 test increased to 19.7 pCi/m2-sec, just a fraction below the limit. EPA can require more frequent testing under these circumstances, or require immediate control of radon with dirt cover. Cotter cannot reach some of the tailings to cover with dirt, and claim that sprinkling the exposed tailings controls radon. CDPHE and Cotter have not answered CCAT's request for the science proving this is effective radon control, and testing seems to indicate that it is not effective. CCAT's requests for more frequent testing from EPA have fallen on deaf ears. Click to read Cotter's 2007 Radon Flux Test and 2008 Radon Flux Test.