This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
"Why worry? Each of us is wearing an unlicensed nuclear accelerator on his back."
Peter Venkman, Ph.D., "Ghostbusters"
Elected officials from the rural areas of Utah are often heard to complain that environmental regulations and concerns get in the way of needed economic development. That hardly seems to be the case at White Mesa.
A uranium processing facility called White Mesa is less than 5 miles from a town, also called White Mesa, on the Ute Mountain Ute reservation. The 40-year-old facility hasn't had a valid operating permit since its old one expired in 2007. Only last week did the residents of the area learn that, among other shortcomings, that license does not require operators of the mill to notify residents of the town of any leak of radioactive materials or other mishaps.
Energy Fuels, the Colorado-based company that runs the mill, and officials of the Utah Division of Waste Management and Radiation Control have attempted to reassure area residents and other concerned people that everything is under control.
We are told that past problems with contaminated groundwater have been addressed and that levels of radon a radioactive, carcinogenic gas associated with uranium have been reduced to levels below that thought to be harmful.
But when nobody has bothered to update the permit for the facility since the George W. Bush administration, what reason is there to have any faith that either the company or the state really cares about how the plant is operated or what threats it might pose to the surrounding area? What incentive does the company have to observe the conditions of its permit if there is reason to believe nobody from the state will care enough to enforce those rules? Any threat to revoke the license would be a joke.
This all becomes even more troubling when considering the fact that Energy Fuels is seeking state permission to have the leavings of a decommissioned uranium enrichment plant in Oklahoma shipped to White Mesa for processing.
Or, environmental activists and Native American neighbors worry, for a sloppy, under-regulated form of storage.
For a place that exists to receive, process and store various states of radioactive materials, White Mesa surely seems to have attracted far too little attention from state regulators and far too much trust us we're experts from everyone in a position of authority.
The state will have another hearing on the matter at 5 p.m., June 15, at the Arts and Events Center in Blanding. Public comment (email@example.com) will be accepted through June 30. There should be a lot of public comment.
More than that, there should be a lot of explanation to the public, seriously and in detail, about how the mill will be monitored. So far, what's been done is far from enough to inspire confidence.