November 8, 2022
Ute Mountain Ute tribal members and community members join the spiritual walk against White Mesa Uranium Mill. (Photo by Tim Peterson/Grand Canyon Trust)

The Last Operating Uranium Mill in the United States explains operations on Ute Land

By Clark Adomaitis

The Energy Fuels Uranium Mill has been protested since it opened in 1979.

The mill is located just five miles north of the White Mesa community. Initially designed to process uranium ore, it now receives radioactive waste from around the world, an estimated 700 million pounds.

The tribe is concerned about the mill’s proximity, but Curtis Moore, Vice President of Marketing at Energy Fuels, says protesters have the details all wrong.

Radioactive caution sign
White Mesa Mill - Energy Fuels Inc. fence with a radioactive material caution sign. (Photo by Clark Adomaitis)

Moore: We support the free speech and the right to protest of the White Mesa community. But we also encourage that those people protesting learn more about what we do, and learn more about all the safety measures that are in place and the fact that there's no evidence that there's any problems out there.

But, local activists cite numerous problems. One is uranium disposal pond 4B. That waste cell is partially uncovered and in violation of the Clean Air Act according to the EPA. The mill is working on re-covering it, but it will only be covered by March 2023. Protesters say it’s a concern for radon emissions. But Moore says the EPA had originally allowed them to expose it .

Radioactive caution sign
EcoFight aerial flyover White Mesa Mill - Energy Fuels Inc.(Photo by Tim Peterson/Grand Canyon Trust)

Protesters cite concerns about exposed toxic waste, old radioactive cells, and groundwater runoff. And Scott Clow, Environmental Programs Director for the Ute Mountain Ute tribe, is concerned that radioactive waste stored at the site is held improperly, and could leak into the surrounding environment.

Clow: The materials that are disposed of in the impoundments at the mill are going to be there forever, they will never be moved. It is not anticipated that they will every be moved. It’s just more and more going in the ground over time.
Radioactive caution sign
EcoFight flyover White Mesa Mill march - (Photo by EcoFight )

This demonstration continues the decades-long fight by tribal members to push for the mill to be permanently closed. Energy Fuels, the company that operates the mill, has agreed to do an interview later this week.

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