Does Utah aspire to become the world’s uranium waste disposal site? White Mesa Mill near Blanding, owned by Energy Fuels Resources Inc. (EFRI), will receive payment to accept 2,000 drums (about 6 tons) of radioactive byproducts from Silmet, an Estonian rare metals processing plant. Less than 1% of this radioactive waste will be reprocessed at the mill; the remaining 99% will be deposited on tailings at the White Mesa Mill site, as we learned from Tribune reporting.
Shipping from Estonia across the Baltic and Atlantic oceans on the long haul to Utah is highly problematic, considering the loading and reloading as it traverses almost halfway across the globe. Prior trucking accidents, one resulting in a waste spill near Blanding in 2017, have already occurred.
The primary concerns, though, are the potential local effects on human health through atmospheric and groundwater pollution by the additional radioactive waste to be deposited on the tailings. The Ute Mountain Ute Tribe's White Mesa community is just four miles south of the mill, and the tribe has been submitting concerns for more than two decades on the detrimental impacts of EFRl's mill site. When will we care about the impact of radioactive waste on a tribal community?
Vera Markgraf, Ph.D., Flagstaff, Ariz.
Research professor emeritus, University of Colorado