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Tribal members in Utah to hold protest at only uranium mill in US

White Mesa Uranium Mill
Dom Smith/EcoFlight
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The Clean Air Act requires uranium waste storage pits at the White Mesa mill near Blanding, Utah, to be covered in water to control radon gas. Environmental groups and local tribes say the pits have been improperly covered in recent years threatening public health and the environment.

Tribal members and environmental advocates will hold an annual protest Saturday at the site of the only operational uranium mill in the U.S. They’re concerned about its potential impacts to public health and the environment.

Tribal members and leaders from the Navajo Nation and the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe plan to gather in the southeastern Utah town of Blanding for what they call a spiritual walk and protest. They’ll rally in support of tribal communities near the White Mesa uranium mill located just outside the eastern borders of Bears Ears National Monument.

Environmental advocates are concerned about the mill’s impacts on air, water and health. They say in recent years on-site waste pits at the mill haven’t been properly covered in water, as required by the Clean Air Act, to control cancer-causing radon gas. Members of the Ute Mountain Ute community of White Mesa also say potential contamination from the mill could harm sacred sites and other cultural resources in the area.

The White Mesa Mill is licensed to process 8 million pounds of uranium a year and it also receives radioactive waste for disposal from Superfund cleanup sites elsewhere in the U-S and from locations abroad.

According to the mill’s owner, Energy Fuels Resources, extensive controls are in place to protect air, water, wildlife and the environment. The company says the mill employs 150 people at full operation.

Ryan joined KNAU's newsroom as executive producer in 2013. He covers a broad range of stories from local, state and tribal politics to education, economy, energy and public lands issues, and frequently interviews internationally known and regional musicians. Ryan is an Edward R. Murrow Award winner and a frequent contributor to NPR.