Cotter Corp. Uranium mill officials say a leak that dumped about 7,200 gallons of contaminated water on the mill property was caused by a rock that punctured a hole in a feeder line.
The feeder line connects to the main pumpback pipeline above a Soil Conservation Service dam that helps prevent rainwater runoff from leaving the mill site. The pipeline carries contaminated water that seeps past the earthen dam and returns it to an impoundment.
“When Cotter personnel excavated the area of the leak, a large rock was discovered above the feeder line. The rock had punctured the pipe, causing the leak,” said Stephen Cohen, Cotter Mill manager.
“Because the puncture and associated crack were small, only a relatively minor percentage of the total actually leaked. Most of the flow continued into the pumpback pipeline,” he explained.
Cotter maintains a pressure monitoring system on the pumpback pipeline that deactivates pumps in the event of a sudden, large pressure drop. However, the feeder is isolated from the main pressure monitoring system, Cohen said. The leak could have occurred on Saturday and continued for 48 hours until workers discovered it on Monday.
It is believed that none of the contaminated water seeped off the mill site, according to Warren Smith, a state health department spokesman.
Cotter officials are replacing the broken section of pipe and the feeder line should be reactivated today, Cohen said. The main pumpback system continues to operate, Smith said.
Because leaks formed in the main pipeline on two separate occasions late last year, Cotter and state health officials are working to finalize a proposal to build a new pipeline.
“Cotter’s original plan does not include replacing any feeder lines. Because this line has broken, however, company (officials) plan to replace this entire section of feeder line when they replace the main pipeline,” Smith said.
Federal and state health officials also are working with Cotter representatives to come up with a plan to clean up and decommission the now-defunct uranium mill site.
FromThe Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):
Opponents of a proposed nuclear power plant near Green River, Utah, are considering whether to appeal to the state’s high court after the state Court of Appeals upheld a district judge’s ruling approving the plant’s water supply.
A three-judge panel ruled last week in favor of Blue Castle Holdings, the project developer, and two water districts that are seeking changes to existing water rights so Blue Castle can withdraw 53,600 acre-feet a year from the Green River for cooling and steam production at the proposed plant.
The conservation group HEAL Utah challenged the state water engineer’s approval of the proposal, but that approval has now been upheld twice in court.
“In sum, HEAL Utah has not shown that the district court erred in concluding the change applications were filed in good faith and are not speculative or for monopoly of the water,” the appeals court ruled.
HEAL Utah’s challenge had been based partly on concerns about environmental impacts to the watershed, including to endangered fish.
Blue Castle CEO Aaron Tilton said in a news release, “We recognize our responsibility for strong environmental stewardship throughout the lifetime of the project, which includes working diligently to assure protection of the Green River environment and endangered species. Our project has been scrutinized at many levels, including the state engineer, the district court and now the appeals court. We have fully complied and satisfied all the requirements of the law. We can assure the public the high level of scrutiny that has been applied to the process is welcomed.”
Matt Pacenza, HEAL Utah’s executive director, said Monday that despite the setback, “we don’t think the project is moving forward in any legitimately or significant way.”
He said Blue Castle hasn’t attracted interest from utilities for the power it would supply, nor, as far as HEAL Utah can tell, from investors. He said the company hadn’t met with the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission since 2011…
The appeals court said in its written ruling, “Despite the relatively early stage of the Project, the Applicants offered considerable evidence that the Project is feasible, including a detailed business plan, purchase contracts for land, lease agreements for the Districts’ water rights, and evidence that shows it has had discussions with eighteen utilities expressing an interest in the plant’s power.”
It added that while the project “is a risky venture” and hasn’t yet been licensed through the NRC, “the Applicants presented evidence that the Project is both physically and economically feasible.”
Blue Castle says it has begun the contractor selection process for some $8 billion worth of construction work with an expected start date of 2020.
It projects that construction would require some 2,500 workers over some six or seven years, and the plant would employ about 1,000 people permanently. The 2,200-megawatt plant would increase Utah electricity generation by about 30 percent, the company says.
FromThe Pueblo Chieftain (Anthony A. Mestas and Tracy Harmon):
Pueblo County Commissioner Liane “Buffie” McFadyen is calling for sediment testing along the Arkansas River and at the bottom of Lake Pueblo to see if there is possible contamination from the now-closed Cotter Corp. Uranium Mill in Fremont County.
McFadyen said Tuesday during a press conference that she is concerned about the impact the possible “growing uranium and molybdenum plumes could have on Pueblo County.”
However, state health officials say the concerns are unfounded. But McFadyen remains concerned.
“This has been going on for 40 years and we can see that the situation is not getting any better and it’s time for us downstream from Canon City to take a stand,” McFadyen said, referring to the ongoing battle over the Cotter Mill cleanup.
Jeri Fry, director of the Colorado Citizens Against Toxic Waste Inc., shared the history of the Cotter controversy and presented maps from a 1987-89 study sowing ground uranium and molybdenum plumes that stretch from the Cotter Superfund site toward the Arkansas River.
“It’s likely that the molybdenum and the uranium plumes have grown since then. We just want answers,” McFadyen said. “And if the Arkansas isn’t contaminated, then that’s a very positive finding . . . We don’t find what we don’t look for.”
However, the concerns are unfounded, according to Colorado Department of Public Health Public Information Officer Warren Smith and Cotter Corp. Mill Manager Steve Cohen. They agree that Arkansas River water is not impacted by contamination from the Cotter mill.
“The Arkansas River is sampled routinely and the results have been showing that the river water quality has not been impacted,” Smith said.
“We constantly collect samples and data every quarter and there is no evidence that Cotter has impacted the Arkansas River.”
Both state and federal health officials study the data and “nobody has ever found anything to suggest that,” said Cohen.
“I am personally disgusted that the Pueblo County commissioners would have a meeting about this and not invite us to speak on the topic,” Cohen said.
And Jennifer Opila, Colorado Department of Public Health site director, said:
“I understand that the sediment has not been sampled (since 2004), but without impact on the water quality, there is no information that would lead us to believe the sediment would be contaminated. There is no contamination of the Arkansas River near the Cotter site, so Pueblo Reservoir would not be impacted.”
“This issue and all other potential issues will be looked at as part of the remedial investigation as we work toward final cleanup,” she said.
McFadyen said she is aware of water testing, but is calling for sediment testing and if it is positive, “Cotter should pay to treat it.”
McFadyen said in 1986, the USGS suggested on behalf of the federal government that sediment and not only the water be tested in the Pueblo reservoir.
“With the plume growing toward the Arkansas River, it’s time. It’s time to take action,” McFadyen said.
She said the possible contamination also could affect Colorado Springs because of the Southern Delivery System, which pipes water from Lake Pueblo up to that community.
State health officials overseeing the Cotter Corp. mill have not felt the study of Minnequa and Pueblo reservoir water quality pertinent since 2004.
“A 2004 review of water quality of the (Minnequa and Pueblo) reservoirs as well as the Arkansas River and associated drainages concluded that they are not impacted by the mill contaminants,” Smith said.
Part of the reason that the downstream reservoirs have not been tested since 2004 is due to the absence of high levels of radium-226, thoium-230, molybdenum and nickel in bodies of water much closer to the mill.
“Sediment sampling in Sand Creek (just north of the mill site), the Arkansas River and the Fremont Ditch indicate that constituents of concern are similar to (natural) background data. These locations are closer to the mill than the Pueblo reservoir and the Minnequa Reservoir,” the state health review concluded.
While the legacy contamination is still present in Lincoln Park groundwater plume (though declining), remedial measures have been effective in preventing public exposure to the Lincoln Park plume. A 2008 water use survey concluded that only one Lincoln Park water well exceeded a drinking water standard for contamination.
The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry draft public health assessment in 2010, conducted at the request of Colorado Citizen’s Against Toxic Waste, found that Cotter contamination did not present a current threat to human health or the environment, according to state health documentation.
“We need to understand all of the materials and how they are moving through the groundwater and how after these 30-40 years they have reached the river and if they are moving on downstream,” Fry said.
“That is a terrible trick to play on our neighbors. When you see a barn burning, do you go tell the authorities or do you just turn your head? And I am telling the authorities. Let’s all band together and get this tested.”
“This site is leaking into the neighboring community and it has contaminated the wells and it is a slow moving problem and because of that, people aren’t aware of it,” Fry said.
Fry is calling for more testing of water near the site and they’re looking for help from the community.
“Until we know where it is, we can’t realistically, effectively clean it up,” she said.
She fears the waste may have spread downstream through the Arkansas River and to the Pueblo Reservoir, which has caught the attention of Pueblo County Commissioner Buffie McFadyen.
“I do believe it’s time for Pueblo to get involved and work with the citizens of Fremont County to not only demand a remediation plan that’s realistic to cleanup the site, but also to demand testing along the Arkansas in the sediment and in Pueblo Reservoir,” she said.
McFadyen, now also demanding more testing of the sediment specifically.
And the possibility of tainted water is unsettling to some locals in Pueblo.
“This water comes from the same area, I imagine it passes through, so it’s picking up stuff definitely,” Patricia Hitchcock, a Pueblo resident said.
While others say, this isn’t anything to worry about just yet.
“I think there’s always a little bit of concern about stuff in the water, it wouldn’t keep me out unless it was really serious, but a little bit of concern. In 10 years, I haven’t gotten sick once from the water,” Daniel Rottinghaus, a Pueblo kayaker said.
Cotter officials tell News5 these claims of contamination in the Arkansas River are simply not true and that they routinely test the water and sediment.
From the Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zubeck):
Tuesday morning, Colorado Citizens Against Toxic Waste gave a presentation to commissioners about their suspicions that the toxic substances have leaked into Pueblo Reservoir.
Why should we in Colorado Springs care? Because one source of water for Colorado Springs and Fountain is the Pueblo Reservoir, via the Fountain Valley Authority line and the Southern Delivery System pipeline.
Commissioner Liane “Buffie” McFadyen is, Pueblo County Commissioner is overseeing efforts to learn more about the situation.
State health officials will host a public meeting for input on ablation technology that Black Range Minerals proposes to use to extract uranium in the Tallahassee area west of Canon City.
The meeting is scheduled from 6 to 8 p.m. May 31 at Quality Inns and Suites, 3075 E. U.S. 50. The Colorado Department of Public Health is working to make a determination on how to regulate use of the new technology to manage risks to the public and the environment.
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 acre site.
Black Range proposes to use ablation — dubbed “uranium fracking” — which involves drilling a hole up to 24 inches in diameter into a uranium deposit, lowering a rotating nozzle into the ground, blasting a high-pressure 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.
Health officials also will take public comment through July 8 via email to Jennifer.firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tech titans Apple, Google, Microsoft and Amazon as well as global brand companies Ikea, Mars, Adobe and Blue Shield Blue Cross Massachusetts told a U.S. court Friday that they need the federal Clean Power Plan for economic reasons.
In two separate Amici Curiae briefs filed in U.S. Circuit Court supporting the EPA’s plan for reducing carbon emissions from the nation’s power plants by 32 percent, the corporate giants said without a “national carbon mitigation plan,” they face “undesirable business risk,” energy price volatility and higher costs.
With these arguments, the businesses seem to have flipped prospects for the Obama administration’s centerpiece climate change policy, which only a month ago looked dim after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled to delay its enforcement.
Since the eight companies collectively employ about 1 million people, account for nearly $2 trillion in market capitalization and are major energy consumers — the tech companies alone use 10 million megawatt hours of electricity a year — they have clout.
Their briefs refute some claims made by 27 states that are plaintiffs in the State of West Virginia, et al vs. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency case challenging the Clean Power Plan as an overreach of federal authority by the EPA in a way that would harm jobs and raise electricity prices.
Among the companies’ most interesting refutations? Their expansion plans depend partly on how they can procure low-carbon electricity.
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.”