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Conservation group says uranium mill storing millions of pounds of radioactive waste

White Mesa uranium mill protest
Tim Peterson, Grand Canyon Trust
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White Mesa Concerned Community members at the White Mesa Community Center before leading a spiritual protest walk to the White Mesa Mill October 10, 2021.

A new report takes a closer look at how much radioactive waste has been dumped at the uranium mill near Bears Ears National Monument in Utah.

According to the report from the conservation nonprofit Grand Canyon Trust, the White Mesa Mill, the last functioning uranium mill in the U.S., stores over 700 million pounds of radioactive waste. During a press conference Tuesday, Tim Peterson, the cultural landscapes director with the trust, said it threatens the air, water and people of Utah.

The White Mesa Mill processes uranium ore, and Peterson said it also accepts waste and mills it for uranium.

“The long and short of our report and our recommendation is that if the mill wants to function as a radioactive waste disposal business, it should be regulated as one,” said Peterson.

White Mesa is a part of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe. Chairman Manuel Heart said he’s taken a glass of tap water from the community to former governors Jon Huntsman Jr. and Gary Herbert of Utah.

“It was a gray-ish color and had the smell of a boiled egg. We took it to them and said, ‘Would you drink this, sir?,'” Heart said. “This is what our tribal members in White Mesa are dealing with on a day-to-day basis.”

Some Indigenous activists said during the press conference they want stricter regulations for the mill. Others want the mill to close and the land reclaimed.

The mill is owned by Energy Fuels, a U.S. producer of uranium and vanadium.

“Energy Fuels is proud of our record of environmental stewardship. We work hard every day to ensure our operations minimize potential impacts to the environment, including water, air, wildlife, soil, and cultural resources,” wrote their CEO and President Mark Chalmers on their website.

Energy Fuels did not respond for comment.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

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