FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
White Mesa, UT—The Ute Mountain Ute Tribe and environmental organizations worry that the White Mesa uranium mill, the nation’s last conventional uranium mill, threatens the water quality of vital springs and poses a long-term threat to the Navajo Aquifer, the main source of drinking water for southeastern Utah and northern Arizona. These concerns are highlighted in the new film, “Half Life” [12 min], released today.
The White Mesa uranium mill, located between Bluff and Blanding, Utah, three miles from the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe’s White Mesa community, processes uranium ore mined around the Grand Canyon as well as toxic waste from Superfund and radioactive waste sites as far away as New York and New Jersey. Through subsidiaries, Canada-based Energy Fuels Inc. owns and operates the mill, as well as uranium mines that supply ore to the mill.
“People at the state and government level really need to look at this,” says Ute Mountain Ute Councilman Malcolm Lehi, featured in the film. The tribe and environmental groups are concerned that the mill’s toxic waste ponds will leak and contaminate groundwater. This would have significant impacts on tribal members’ traditional and cultural uses of the area.
The mill was built on Ute Mountain Ute ancestral lands, with hundreds of rare and significant cultural sites located on the mill site, including burial sites, large kivas, and pit houses. Several significant archeological sites were destroyed when the mill and tailings ponds were constructed.
Old liners, insufficient leak detection systems
The mill processes both uranium ore and alternate feed (uranium-bearing radioactive waste) from across North America. The radioactive and toxic waste that remains after processing is disposed of in open pits called “impoundments” that take up about 275 acres next to the mill. The older impoundments at the mill are lined with thin layers of PVC, and the RRD International Corp, a team of mining experts, has concluded that these liners had a useful life of 20 years when installed in the early 1980s. The older liners also lack modern leak detection systems that would prevent groundwater contamination.
The water connection
“In arid southeastern Utah, we can’t afford to gamble with our precious water resources,” says Anne Mariah Tapp, Energy Program Director for the Grand Canyon Trust. “Contamination of the deeper Navajo Aquifer would be catastrophic for the region.”
To date, no contamination has reached the four springs regularly monitored by the tribe, but evidence of growing plumes of contaminants in the perched aquifer below the mill site continues to mount.
Telling the Story
“We made this film to shed light on an important story that has flown under the radar,” says filmmaker Justin Clifton, “there are serious problems at the White Mesa Mill that must be corrected to protect the long-term health of southeastern Utah’s communities and environment. Public awareness of these issues is a critical part of effecting change.”
- Photos: Aerial (Credit: Dom Smith, EcoFlight); Grand Canyon radiation sign (Credit: Blake McCord); Canyon uranium mine, owned and operated by Energy Fuels (Credit: Blake McCord)
- Maps: Proposed Bears Ears National Monument showing proximity to White Mesa Mill; Uranium mines and claims around the Grand Canyon; Toxic waste shipments to the White Mesa Mill; Canyon uranium mine haul route to the White Mesa Mill
- Ute Mountain Ute Tribe’s request for agency action before the Utah Department of Environmental Quality