Salt Lake City, UT – On Monday, August 2, 2021, the Utah Division of Waste Management and Radiation Control (DWMRC) published their approval for Energy Fuels, owner of White Mesa Mills, to import radioactive waste from Estonia and other domestic sites to their southern Utah location.
In all, 12,092 citizens and organizations turned in comments on this proposal, known as Amendment 10. Only 312 of those comments supported importing this waste, leaving 11,780 comments in opposition to Amendment 10.
This decision worries environmental groups like The Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah ( HEAL Utah) and Grand Canyon Trust. They are concerned that this decision could lead Utah to become a dumping ground for international radioactive waste. In the past, Utah companies tried to bring in waste from international sources, but the public and previous Governors fought back and were able to stop those proposals.
“When White Mesa Mill wanted to import radioactive waste in 2004, Governor Olene Walker said ‘ … if we don’t stand up now the game is over. You can’t take two or three and say that’s all.'”, recalled Scott Williams, Executive Director of HEAL Utah. “So we’re asking Governor Cox to correct this mistake, stop this waste from being shipped from Estonia, and keep all other foreign waste out of Utah.”
Organizations also raise a brow at the classifications that allowed for this approval. DWMRC has classified the material from Estonia as uranium ore instead of radioactive waste, despite the uranium content in the waste being less than 1% by weight. Energy Fuels was initially licensed to only process uranium for 15 years in the 1970s; they have been allowed to carry on and even start storing radioactive waste.
“It appears that Energy Fuel’s business model at White Mesa Mill is to use loopholes in state and federal regulations to import foreign radioactive waste for disposal,” said Williams. “The Division of Waste Management and Radiation Control apparently didn’t have the regulatory latitude to deny this request without an executive order from the Governor or a state law crafted by the legislature.”
This decision also leaves concerns for the surrounding Indigenous communities who reside close to the White Mesa Mill and have already suffered from impacts of the mill, such as poisoned groundwater.
“It’s past time that we find environmental justice for the White Mesa Ute community,” said Talia Boyd, Cultural Landscapes Manager for Grand Canyon Trust. “Environmental justice for Indigenous people, in part, means an end to nuclear colonialism, and that starts with closing and cleaning up this uranium mill.”