After two recent breaks in the Cotter Corp. Uranium Mill’s pumpback pipeline which returns contaminated water to an impoundment, officials on Friday outlined a plan to replace 3,500 feet of the pipeline.
Cotter officials reported two leaks occurring at the end of November and in early December in a pipeline that captures contaminated water that seeps past an earthen dam on Cotter Corp. Uranium Mill. It appears that both times the leaks were contained to Cotter property, according to Warren Smith of the Colorado Department of Public Health.
The Cotter Corp. reported a water spill at their site [November 26, 2015] to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, the CDPHE said.
“(Cotter) discovered a spill of approximately 1,800 gallons of water at the pumpback line immediately upstream of the SCS dam on Cotter property,” a CDPHE email states. “They believe that the spill occurred overnight or early that morning. All water was drained back to the sump and no standing water was left on the ground. The leak has been repaired and the pumps have been turned back on.”
The CDPHE stated this incident is currently under investigation, but they believe water did not go beyond the property.
“A multi-part containment system keeps surface water and groundwater on Cotter property from entering Lincoln Park,” the email stated. “System features include a compacted clay barrier extending to non-porous shale on the upstream side of the Soil Conservation Service Dam, a water collection pipe and three pumps. An underground cutoff wall downstream adds another layer of protection.”
Meanwhile there was another spill yesterday, December 3, 2015. Here’s a report from Sarah Rose writing for The Canon City Daily Record. Here’s an excerpt:
Thursday morning Cotter employees discovered that the pumping system shut down, CDPHE said.
“Cotter personnel then inspected the SCS pumpback line and found the location of the break,” a CDPHE email stated. “Based on the amount of time between the morning inspection and observing the 10 a.m. shutdown, Cotter estimates that approximately 500 gallons of water leaked from the pipe line. Leaked water flowed approximately 20 feet, ponded in a slight depression and infiltrated into the soil. It appears that the water stayed on Cotter property.”
A company’s application to conduct exploratory borehole drilling for uranium in the Tallahassee neighborhood west of Canon City has been denied.
The Mined Land Reclamation Board on Oct. 28 denied the application from Black Range Minerals that would have allowed development of an underground borehole extraction experiment in the Tallahassee Creek area. As presented, the application would have proceeded under the minimal requirements of a prospecting permit.
Objections to the proposal were filed by opponents including Tallahassee Area Community, Inc., Coloradoans Against Resource Destruction and the Information Network for Responsible Mining.
“Under Colorado law, the difference between prospecting activities versus mining activities equates to a big difference in how carefully regulators review the permit and how well water quality will be monitored and protected,” said attorney Jeff Parsons, who represented the opponents and Tallahassee resident Kay Hawklee in the proceedings. “This well-reasoned decision prevents Colorado from becoming a laboratory for untested uranium technologies that haven’t yet proven they can be utilized without polluting the watershed.”
Australia-based Black Range Minerals initially started exploring for uranium in the Taylor Ranch area west of Canon City in 2008 and got approval from the Fremont County Commission in 2010 to expand exploration on an additional 2,220 acres of property known as the Hansen Deposit, which is believed to be the largest uranium deposit in the district.
Black Range proposed to the state to use underground borehole mining, dubbed uranium fracking. The process involves drilling a hole up to 24 inches in diameter into a uranium deposit, lowering a rotating nozzle into the ground, blasting a highpressure water jet stream into the rock in order to fracture it and develop an underground cavern before pumping a uranium-bearing slurry back to the surface for processing.
Black Range’s proposal submitted to the state anticipated the development of the underground borehole passing through an unconfined drinking water aquifer in the Tallahassee Creek basin, but omitted a complete water-quality monitoring plan, Parsons said.
“The proposal that Black Range Minerals submitted was so minimalist that the company didn’t even identify the location of the main borehole or the detailed water-monitoring regime normally required for mining activities,” he said.
“This was an attempt by Black Range Minerals to get its mining operation going on the quick,” said Cathe Meyrick, president of Tallahassee Area Community group. “If we’re going to have an uranium mine next door, we expect the state to require a thorough review, including a comprehensive water monitoring plan and have enough protections in place to ensure that our drinking water isn’t contaminated.”
State and federal health officials are inviting the public to submit informal preliminary comments on the Cotter Corp. Uranium Mill’s Draft Quality Management Plan.
The 53-page plan outlines quality assurance, training, implementation of work, record keeping, response and corrective action protocols for the now-defunct mill as it moves toward decommissioning. The mill has been an EPA Superfund site since 1984 due to the seeping of uranium and molybdenum contamination into groundwater and soil which was caused by the use of unlined tailings ponds.
The confluence of Havasu Creek with the Colorado River (river mile 157) is a popular place for boaters to stop and admire the striking blue-green water of Havasu Creek. The turquoise color is caused by water with a high mineral content. At the point where the blue creek meets the turbid colorado river there often appears a definite break. NPS photo by Erin Whittaker.
Impacts to water quality, cultural resources at stake, as conservation groups seek new environmental study
FRISCO — A U.S. Forest Service decision to allow uranium mining near the Grand Canyon will be tested in court once again.
Conservation groups last week said they’ll appeal a lower court ruling that affirmed the agency’s decision on the mine, located about six miles from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.
U.S. District Court Judge David Campbell last month said conservation groups and the Havasupai Tribe failed…
Benefits for workers sickened by Cañon City’s atomic legacy will be outlined at a federal Department of Labor town hall Wednesday morning.
The department oversees a program designed to compensate nuclear workers for cancer and other maladies associated with mining, hauling and processing uranium. Over the years, dozens of workers at Cañon City’s Cotter Mill have claimed their illnesses were caused by exposure to uranium and other toxic substances.
Now, the federal government wants to make sure sick workers get paid.
“The goal of the meeting is to make current and former nuclear weapons workers living in Colorado aware of the program and to assist them in finding information to determine eligibility for available compensation and medical benefits,” the Labor Department said in a news release.
Miners hit massive uranium deposits along the Front Range in the 1950s and the mill in Cañon City was built to process it into “yellow cake” – uranium oxide – which can be refined into fuel for reactors and weapons parts.
Processing uranium, though, left the mill in Cañon City marred by toxic leach fields and tailing ponds that were later deemed to be a federal Superfund cleanup site.
The leaching left water contaminated with heavy metals and solvents in unlined storage ponds that continue to drive worries over groundwater contamination.
The site, under supervision from the Colorado Department of Health and Environment, has been at the center of a controversy over how to clean up the damage.
A settlement agreement reached over the summer says Cotter will pay for continued cleanup under state supervision.
Taking care of workers falls under the Labor Department, which has administered health care and compensation for nuclear workers since Congress in 1990 approved the Radiation Exposure Act.
The act offers lump-sum payments and health care coverage for those sickened by radiation work that fell under the federal Department of Energy.
In recent years, Labor Department experts have held regular meetings in Cañon City to advise workers on the payments.