Expert addresses uranium proposal

Plan to accept low-level radioactive tailings in early stages

A preliminary proposal to retool a defunct uranium mine to accept uranium tailings brought a flood of people to Wednesday's Craig/Moffat County Economic Development Partnership meeting.

More than 40 people packed

the Holiday Inn meeting room, forc

ing staff members to bring extra tables and chairs to accommodate the crowd.

Many were there to hear from an expert in nuclear and radiation engineering about the possible risks of having a uranium tailings repository in Moffat County.

Jim Ross, owner of Intermountain Realty in Craig, received a $6,500 EDP Growing Local Business grant to process more than 25,000 pages of documentation about other repository sites and the history of the former uranium mine located on his property outside of Maybell.

Ross attended Wednesday's meeting after his report last month generated more questions than he was prepared to answer -- from EDP board members and the public.

This time, he brought Shane Brightwell, a consultant in the radiation health safety field.

"This is in the conceptual phase," Brightwell told the group.

He said that Ross' plan was to accept low-level radioactive tailings, not nuclear waste and estimated a time frame of three to six years before the site is permitted to accept tailings.

He couldn't guess how long site preparation would take, but said several agencies would have oversight on the project, including the county, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the U.S. Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Health and safety issues were at the forefront of what those in attendance wanted to know.

"The health and safety issue is valid for everyone," Ross said. "It's valid for me and valid for my children and grandchildren."

According to Brightwell, a net loss in radiation would occur if people considered the level of radiation originally in the ground before the uranium was mined. He said medium- to high-level uranium was mined from the pit, and low-level to no-level uranium tailings would be put back.

"Radioactive material has already been released into the air and the water," Brightwell said. "This is the most highly regulated industry there is. (Regulators) don't care about production, they care about safety."

He said those working on the site would face the highest risk, which is why a program must be designed to ensure worker safety before the site could be opened.

Brightwell also said the environmental effects likely would be so minimal that they couldn't be measured.

Uranium was mined first in 12 mines outside of Maybell in the 1950s and '60s.

The pit Ross proposes would be about 200 feet deep.

Uranium mine tailings are generally crushed rock that contains uranium in quantities too small for use.

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