Radioactive Pond too ‘Hot’ to Test

Friday, August 5, 2011 @ 02:08 PM gHale

The managers of a uranium mill have asked state regulators to let them stop testing the acidity of a leaking toxic- and radioactive-waste impoundment pond because the conditions have become too dangerous for workers.

A makeshift row of wooden pallets leading into the viscous impoundment sank into the muck, and “it is now unsafe to measure the pH of the pool,” said Cotter Corp.’s environment coordinator, Jim Cain, in a July 25 letter to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

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Cotter also notified department regulators the company will pursue a lower-cost, passive approach to investigating a plume of the industrial solvent trichloroethene (TCE). TCE was in groundwater at levels exceeding federal health limits and has spread to at least one off-site well, according to Cotter documents. Cotter is a subsidiary of San Diego- based defense contractor General Atomics.

Public health department officials on Wednesday still were considering Cotter’s request to suspend testing, “but it seems like a reasonable request,” department radiation control unit manager Steve Tarlton said. He also said Cotter’s proposed passive approach to investigating TCE contamination is “a good approach,” although future testing and remediation may be necessary.

Managers of a uranium mill want to stop testing the acidity of a leaking radioactive-waste impoundment pond because conditions have become too dangerous for workers.

Managers of a uranium mill want to stop testing the acidity of a leaking radioactive-waste impoundment pond because conditions have become too dangerous for workers.


The Cotter efforts to reduce monitoring affect Colorado’s oversight of the cleanup because state regulators rely on company data instead of conducting independent tests.

Cotter is in the process of dismantling its shuttered uranium mill, located south of the Arkansas River near Cañon City.

With state permission, the company has been moving 90,000 gallons of radioactive sludge and solvents into the impoundment, although regulators know the impoundment is leaking. Liquid waste is mixing with a material resembling cat litter that renders it more solid.

Health regulators contend underground clay barriers will keep new contamination in the impoundment and prevent TCE from reaching residents of Cañon City.

Cotter has a plan, the regulators add, for scaring away any water birds that might land on toxic waste.

Workers at the mill, built in 1958 with federal support, processed uranium for weapons and power plants. Cotter dumped waste in 11 unlined ponds, leading to contamination of groundwater, which spread to Cañon City.

Federal Environmental Protection Agency officials in 1984 declared the mill and surrounding area a Superfund environmental disaster — then entrusted state authorities with supervising the cleanup.



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