Uranium Loads Halt after Toxic Spills

Tuesday, September 6, 2016 @ 05:09 PM gHale


After two radioactive waste spills, the operator of Wyoming’s largest uranium mine must halt all shipments, federal officials said.

The spills occurred nine months apart from the Cameco Resources side north of Glenrock to a Utah disposal facility, said officials from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).

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Cameco Resources agreed to end shipments until an investigation is conducted and steps are taken to prevent future leaks, said NRC spokesman Victor Dricks.

The first spill occurred in August 2015 and the second occurred in March, both outside the disposal facility in Blanding, Utah. Cameco representative Ken Vaughn said the company had voluntarily suspended future transports following the March incident. The company said it found no evidence the sludge contaminated roads in Wyoming.

The NRC required Cameco to cease shipments because the company failed to take proper action following last year’s spill, Dricks said.

“They took some corrective action which, in hindsight, was not adequate,” he said.

During an investigation into the leak, the NRC also identified a series of other violations by Cameco.

In addition to the “repetitive nature” of the leaks, regional regulatory commission administrator Kriss M. Kennedy said the company had failed to properly package the toxic materials, failed to accurately describe the material and exceeded the legal shipment size for such material.

Cameco’s Smith Ranch-Highland facility, the nation’s largest uranium mine, faced penalties for regulatory violations in the past. In 2008, the company paid a $500,000 fine after the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) documented years of repeated violations. At the time, DEQ noted “routine spills” at the mine.

Vaughn said the company was investigating both the leaks and other violations identified by regulators and would work to ensure the firm was in compliance going forward. The two leaks came from different parts of the shipping containers, which he said explained why the initial changes after last year’s leak did not prevent the March spill.

“We were addressing an issue with the bottom of the container… [then] we understood we had an issue with the top of the container,” Vaughn said.

Following the leaks, the company sent investigators to check for radiation along the route of the transport truck and found no signs any of the sludge had contaminated Wyoming roads or spilled anywhere other than outside the Utah disposal site, Vaughn said.

“We’re not aware of any impact on the environment or public health,” he said.

According to the letter from Kennedy, Cameco officials have agreed to seek written approval from the NRC before resuming radioactive shipments and conduct an independent review of their transportation program.

The letter, dated Tuesday, requires action to be taken within 45 days. Vaughn said the priority was getting things right rather than speed, and declined to give a timeline for when the company believes it would be able to be able to start shipping radioactive waste again.

Cameco generally makes two shipments per year from the Smith Ranch facility.