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Environmental NGO seeks court order to close Utah uranium mill

Colorado’s Energy Fuels denies being cited for radon pollution violations emanating from tailings at the nation’s sole uranium mill.

Environmental NGO Grand Canyon Trust has sued the operator of White Mesa, the only conventional uranium mill operating in the United States, over radon pollution.

The Grand Canyon Trust, which claims to have 4,000 members, including those who reside, work, visit and recreate in Colorado, says White Mesa Mill is releasing Radon-222, a gas emitted from the radioactive wastes generated from uranium milling.

The lawsuit claims Energy Fuels Resources Clean Air Act violations “pose a serious and continuing threat to nearby communities, the region’s people, and the environment that can be remedied by the statutory relief sought in this complaint.”

The White Mesa Mill is located near the White Mesa community of the Ute Mountain tribe and the cities of Blanding and Bluff in Utah.

Energy Fuels spokesman Curtis Moore has told media the company disagrees with the claims and that matters are being resolved.

“The issues raised by this group are either inaccurate, have been addressed, or are being addressed as part of the normal regulatory processes,” Moore said. “Energy Fuels and the regulators are well aware of these matters, none of which has resulted in a violation.”

The mill has a licensed capacity of 2,000 tpd and can yield up to 8 million pounds of uranium annually. White Mesa also has a co-recovery circuit to produce vanadium from Colorado Plateau ore and an alternative feed circuit to process other uranium-bearing materials.

Attorneys for the Trust are seeking a court order to provide declaratory and injunctive relief, enforce the Clean Air Act standards and limits, impose civil penalties against Energy Fuels, and require Energy Fuels to fund a supplemental environmental project.

The litigation claims the milling tailings site “contains significant amounts of radium,” asserting that Radon-222 atoms emitted from tailings impoundments will attach to airborne dust particles and travel many miles before decaying.

Energy Fuels plans to place the White Mesa Mill on standby in the second half of fiscal year 2014 by discontinuing processing while continuing to receive and stockpile uranium ore and alternate feed.

The Trust is asking the federal court to declare that “Energy Fuels has violated and is violating the Clean Air Act and issue such orders as are necessary to enforce the Clean Air Act emissions standards and limits.” The court is also being asked to issue an injunction to stop Energy Fuels from conducting operations at White Mesa “until it complies with the Clean Air Act” and to “take actions that remediate” the alleged adverse effects to public health and the environment from the reported Clean Air Act violations.

The plaintiffs are also asking the court to order Energy Fuels to pay civil penalties for alleged present and past violations of the Clean Air Act and “fund beneficial mitigation or supplemental environmental projects”.

The Utah Division of Radiation Control is renewing the license for White Mesa Mill. Utah’s state Radiation Control Board is scheduled to consider preliminary, proposed changes to administrative procedures regarding uranium mill tailings disposal facility requirements Tuesday, as well as hear a status update on the White Mesa Mill.

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