Chapter #207: White Mesa, Utah - Uranium Mill - November 23, 2011

Sign for the White Mesa Uranium Mill and processing plant near Blanding, Utah - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)

Native American Civilization Bites the Nuclear Dust at White Mesa, Utah

The settlement of White Mesa, Utah is located twelve miles south of Blanding, Utah on U.S. Highway 191. As the Utah component of the Ute Mountain Ute Reservation, its 2000 census data indicated a population of 277 people. Over ninety-eight percent of the population was Native American. By the 2010 census, the population at White Mesa had fallen over twelve percent to 242 people. By then, the population had aged, with fewer children and young people living there. In 2000, over fifty percent of the population lived below the poverty line. The only retail business at White Mesa is the reservation-owned White Mesa Travel Center, which includes as gas station and convenience store.

A dubious landmark in San Juan County, Utah, the Denison Mines White Mesa Mill sits on 3840 acres of nuclear-contaminated land - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)About halfway between White Mesa and Blanding, Utah, sits the Denison Mines White Mesa Mill.
First opened in 1980 by Energy Fuels Corporation, White Mesa Mill went bankrupt in 1997. At that time, International Uranium (USA) Corp. purchased the mill. Later, Denison Mines purchased the mill and now operates it as a wholly owned subsidiary. The White Mesa Mill has the distinction of being the only conventional uranium ore-processing mill in the United States. Unobtrusive, when viewed from the highway, the facility covers 3840 acres of land. In addition to the mill itself are huge earthworks and retention ponds. In 2002, The Canyon Country Zephyr named the White Mesa Mill its “#1 Secret Place of Canyon Country”.

Currently, the mill accepts radioactive and toxic wastes from around the nation, and then stores them onsite. When the gathered stockpiles of nuclear tailings and residues are sufficient, the mill goes into operation and processes them. With the addition of newly mined ores, the mill has seen continuous operation since 2005. Since there is no rail access to the mill, all materials arrive at the site by truck. When you are sitting at an open-air café in Moab, Utah watching huge multi-axel tractor-trailer rigs roll through town, they may be loaded with nuclear contaminated materials destined for White Mesa. It is interesting that those huge, covered trailers display no hazardous or nuclear placards.

Safety record sign at entrance to White Mesa Uranium Mill, near Blanding, Utah - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Although the processing plant has a separate vanadium-processing loop, the main product of the White Mesa Mill is triuranium octoxide (U3O8), which is a compound of uranium. Despite its olive green color, U3O8 is a form of yellowcake, which may contain up to eighty percent uranium oxide. Triuranium octoxide manufactured at White Mesa Mill is transported offsite for further enrichment. Its ultimate use is as fuel for nuclear power plants. With further enrichment, it could become weapons-grade material.

In May 2008, the Division of Air Quality (DAQ), within the Utah Division of Environmental Quality conducted an inspection and issued a report regarding air quality compliance at White Mesa Mill. Among other things, the DAQ inspection looked at how much ten-micron particulate matter (PM10) went up the stacks and into the atmosphere. Although permitted for up to .4 pounds of PM10 per hour, during inspection each yellowcake scrubber/dryer onsite emitted “only” .12 pounds per hour. If operated continuously for one year, those two dryer/scrubbers alone would emit over one ton of unknown, possibly radioactive particulates into the air. Other sources claim that the mill annually emits 62 tons of sulfur dioxide, 109 tons of nitrogen oxides, and 254 tons of particulates. Propane usage onsite is several million gallons per year.

Radioactive warning sign at Denison Mines Corp. White Mesa Mill - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Also discovered during the 2008 inspection was a non-compliant baghouse (air filtration facility) associated with lab operations at the site. After notification of non-compliance, Denison Mines estimated that the baghouse emitted
one hundred ten pounds of PM10 particulates per year. Although there was no corroboration of those estimates, the Utah DAQ did not challenge company findings. Because of the supposedly small amount of released particulates, the DAQ did not fine Denison Mines for non-compliance.

After thirty years of operation, much of the mill’s original equipment is still in use, or disuse, as the case may be. For example, the 2008 DAQ inspection determined that the emergency electrical generator onsite had last operated in 1996. Despite the requirement that an emergency generator be available during power interruptions, DAQ did not fine Denison Mines for lack of compliance. Ironically, the DAQ inspection report used inoperability as a reason to not penalize the operator. In the inspection report, there is no mention of the need to fix or replace the derelict emergency generator. Under the circumstances, we can only hope that future power interruptions will not result in site contamination or release of airborne particulates.

Visible smoke issues from two stacks at the White Mesa Uranium Mill near Blanding, Utah - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Also missing, misplaced or misidentified during the inspection was a Bartlett-Snow rotary calciner. The DAQ report indicated, “Company contacts were not aware of where the rotary calciner and control equipment were located.” That surprised me, since a rotary calciner shown at the Bartlett-Snow website required a three-axel flatbed trailer to carry it. I checked eBay, and as of this writing, the only used rotary calciner listed there carried a price of $35,000. If I were interested in that unit, I would bring a dosimeter with me during the inspection.

If you Google “White Mesa Uranium Mill”, you will find a host of articles decrying large-scale trucking of nuclear waste to the mill, as well as its spotty environmental record. In 2008, the Utah DAQ found missing, inoperable and unpermitted equipment at the mill. In their final report, DAQ’s lack of urgency and enforcement reminded me of lax oversight at the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear power plant prior to March 2011. When the tsunami flooded all of the emergency generators at the plant, a cascade of failures began, leading to a nuclear fuel meltdown on May 13, 2011.

The Ute Mountain Ute Tribe owns the White Mesa Travel Center and convenience store, twelve miles south of Blanding, Utah - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)The Denison Mines White Mesa Mill is not in danger of a nuclear meltdown. The yellowcake produced there is not fissionable. Still, in its final recommendations for their next inspection, the Utah DAQ report suggested in typical understated fashion, “Bring a respirator – It may be needed in certain areas of the facility”.

On June 3, 2011, I rolled up the front gate at White Mesa Mill, which appeared to be in full operation. Visible smoke issued from two large exhaust stacks on the east side of the mill. Although the 2008 DAQ report indicated that no single source of particulates at the mill should exceed twenty percent opacity, to me the visible smoke completely obscured the blue sky beyond it. Admittedly, I did not have proper optical measuring equipment that day. Still, a simple webcam pointing at the stacks from a position that shows a solid background should solve that problem. If asked, I would be happy to supply a free webcam system to the Utah DAQ. With the installation of a solid black “billboard” behind each stack, DAQ compliance officers could remotely monitor the opacity of released particulates. If the mill were in compliance, Denison Mines could use the calibrated webcam images to prove it.

Dust storm, including material from the White Mesa Uranium Mill envelopes the White Mesa Travel Center near Blanding, Utah - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Finally, what shall become of the poorest, least represented and closest proximity residents to the White Mesa Mill? If trends identified in the 2000 and 2010 census prevail, the Ute Mountain Ute Reservation at White Mesa will continue its decline. Once a thriving settlement that featured paved roads, utilities and framed houses, the neighborhood at White Mesa is now derelict and decaying. A quick drive through “town” shows many abandoned homes. With six square miles of nuclear and chemical waste nearby, the resale market for property at White Mesa, let alone Blanding, Utah is fading like the smoke from White Mesa Mill.

Since the dry climate in Southeastern Utah slows decay, these relics of Native American culture might well be standing at White Mesa one thousand years from now. What will future archeologists think when they discover an abandoned ruin near an abandoned uranium mill and a large pile of nuclear contaminated waste?

Email James McGillisEmail James McGillis


By James McGillis at 05:00 PM | Environment | Comments (0) | Link

Blog Search

 →  Recent Posts

Snow in Death Valley National Park
The Colorado River's Demise - 2023
The Four Corners Region - Part 5
The Four Corners Region - Part 4
The Four Corners Region - Part 3
The Four Corners Region - Part 2
The Four Corners Region - Part 1
Mammoth Lakes, Summer 2020
Morro Bay, CA - Fire Season 2020
Camping at Panamint Springs, Part 2
Camping at Panamint Springs, Part 1
Camping at Mojave Preserve in 2020
Death Valley Winter Camping 2019
Edward Abbey & Friends at UNM Ch. 5
Edward Abbey & Friends at UNM Ch. 4
Edward Abbey & Friends at UNM Ch. 3
Edward Abbey & Friends at UNM Ch. 2
Edward Abbey & Friends at UNM Ch. 1
Planned Desecration of The Book Cliffs
Thompson Springs, Utah - History
Visit Historic Thompson Springs, Utah
Santa Susana Field Lab Contamination
Classmate Bob Lovejoy (1948 - 2018)
Titus Canyon and Titanothere Canyon
2018 - Is The Future a Mirage?
Return of the Moab Burro Crane
Moab - Desert Rocks Festival 2011
Moab, UT - Negro Bill Canyon Remains
Yosemite High Country Devastation
Furnace Creek - Death Valley, Calif.
Zabriskie Point - Death Valley, Calif.
Crescent Junction, Utah - New History
NTSB Final Report Omits Critical Data
Winter Camping in the Mojave Desert
2017 - Burbank Rose Parade Float
Sarah Thomas - World Record Swim
A Family Visit to Kaua'i, Hawaii in 1988
2016 - Cow Springs, AZ Trading Post
Metrolink - Meager Track Maintenance
'16 Beverly Hills Concours d'Elegance
It's Time to Audit Metrolink Operations
Ventura County - Deadly Rail Collision
Ventura County, CA - Rail Safety 2016
Metrolink Ignores Mismatched Brakes
Agencies Ignore Rail Safety Issues
Nevada - Vote Now to Bring Back Solar
Ventura County Rail Deaths Scandal
Google Pop Car- Rail Safety Plan
BNSF Locomotives on Metrolink Trains
2015 - Time to Phase Out Lake Powell
Navajo Power Plant Heat Island Effect
Of Mudflats and Methane Volcanoes
Metrolink Anti-Derailment Blade Failure
Metrolink to Spend $338 Million
The Glenn Steele Memorial Overpass
5th & Rice - A Deadly Railroad Crossing
The One, the Only - Plush Kokopelli
Metrolink Train Crash, A Personal Story
Moab, Utah - Lions Club Park - Part 2
Moab, Utah - Lions Club Park - Part 1
Deadly Crude Oil Trains Coming Soon
Metrolink Oxnard Train Collision Report
2015 Rare California Rain Barrels Help
So. California Lakes Soon to Disappear
C.Proietto - Cattolica, Cafe Eden Roco
Hollywood: "Violence is the New Sex"
2014 Spanish Valley Vineyards
Durango & Silverton Railroad Story
Is it Too Late to Save Moab, Utah?
BLM & SITLA - URLEA Subterfuge
Moab Pile to be "Moab Pit" - 2029
Moab in Springtime - May 2014
Old Mesquite, NV - Gone For Good
I-15 North - Mojave Desert Tour
Grand Co. Plans to Desecrate Site
Moab - County Plans Fail the Test
2014 - Quantum Leap in ATM Theft
Moab Kiley - Peaceful BLM Protest
Stop The BLM-SITLA Land Swap
Utah Recreational Land Exchange
Burro Cranes - A Complete History
Moab Burro at Seven Mile Canyon
Brightsource Solar's Flawed Design
Trend - Horsepower Mitigation Fees
Moab Rim Campark Sold in 2014
Durango, CO - Engine #478 - 1965
Durango, CO - Engine #476 - 1965
Red Lake Trading Post, Tonalea, AZ
Deconstruction at Cow Springs, AZ
Cow Springs, Navajo Art - 2013
Navajo/Hopi, New Energy Dilemma
Peabody Coal Stripmine Disappears
An Arizona River Dies in the Desert
Black Mesa Coal - Water & Power
2013 - The Great Western Drought
Homolovi State Park, AZ - No Ruins
C.Proietto Paints at Lago Maggiore
American Bison Herd Threatened
I-40, Twin Arrows - Both Old & New
Simi Valley Brush Fire - Air Power
I-40: Highway Tax Dollars At Work
Kristi Frazier - World Citizen Award
Sierra Nevada, CA - 2013 Drought
Desolation Canyon Wilderness Area
The Holbrook Basin Potash Project
Moab - Revisit Seven Mile Canyon
Moab - Greater Canyonlands N.M.
Thomas Kinkade - Yosemite Valley
C.Proietto Paints Lugano, Gandria
Paso Robles, CA - Wine Adventure
Colorado River Dine & Unwind Moab
Kodiak 100 --> Moab Charter Flight
The True Cost of Mineral Extraction
Moab Truck - 1950 Chevy 3100
Disappearance --> Reemergence
Edward Abbey - His Spirit Returns
Edward Abbey - Monkey Wrenching
Edward Abbey - Lake Powell 1965
Edward Abbey - Desert Solitaire 65
A New Message From AAMikael
C.Proietto Paints Bad Kreuznach
New Jersey - The New Atlantis?
Moab - A Rare Beech B-45 (T-34A)
Howell Mountain, CA - Winemaking
Oakville, CA - Robt. Mondavi Wines
Crescent Junction, UT - in 1955
Craig Childs - Apocalyptic Planet
Mammoth Lakes, CA - 1st. Snowfall
Mesquite, NV - A Disappearing Act
The Mystery of Hovenweep Road
Moab Airport - Canyonlands Field
Moab, UT - Save Ken's Lake Puddle
Jeeps & Downtown Abbey in Moab
Moab Valley vs. Spanish Valley, UT
Moab, Utah - Go Behind the Rocks
Moab Adventure Xstream Race '12
Face on Mars - Is it John Lennon?
C.Proietto - Paints The Dolomites
Moab Tower - The Wireless Story
Brendel, Utah - A History Mystery
C.Proietto - New Mystery Painting
Tsunami Risks Up in Crescent Bays
"Moab Native" Potash Comments
C.Proietto - And The Glory of Rome
L.A. to Australia, by 34-ft. Sailboat
Interstate I-70 East through Utah
Mesquite, NV - Opportunity Lost?
Las Vegas, NV "Drive-by" - I-15N
Ivanpah Valley, CA - Mega-Solar
Pearblossom Hwy. - Palmdale Road
C.Proietto - Venice Sunset, Sunrise
24-Hours of Moab 2012 to Happen
C.Proietto - A Portrait of the Artist
AOL & Yahoo Mail Getting Hacked
ATM Retail Technology - New & Old
C.Proietto - Solving An Art Mystery
Mulholland Drive, Los Angeles, CA
Hollywood - To The Sign & Beyond
Hollywood - Legendary Paul Pink's
Kokopelli Credit Union - New ATM
#1 Google Ranking & How to Get It
C.Proietto - Two New Oil Paintings
LACoFD Truck 8 at Hollywood Bowl
I-405 Golden Crane Air Hazard
Beware: Hoax/Scam Phishing Sites
A Quantum Leap in Super PAC $$$
I-405 Mulholland Bridge Update
Moab Skydiving Video - May 2011
Tonopah Desert, AZ Thunderstorm
Anticline Overlook - Ancient Spirit
ATM Bank Robbery Now Easier Still
Ronald Reagan Presidential Library
Chaco Canyon - Kin Klizhin Sunset
Chaco Canyon - Kin Klizhin Ruin
Chaco Canyon, Spirit of Lizard Man
Chaco Canyon, NM - Campground
White Mesa, Utah - Uranium Mill
Hidden Costs in Biofuels Revealed
Arches National Park Threatened
Moab Rail - The U. P. Potash Local
Toxic Purple Dust Covers Moab, UT
U.S. Highway 191 in Moab, Utah
Kindle Fire Tablet vs. Nook Tablet
Ken's Lake 2011 Update, Moab, UT
24-Minutes of Moab Kids Bike Race
24-Hrs. of Moab, The Final Sunset?
24-Hours of Moab 2011 Race Start
24-Hrs. of Moab Race Live Webcam
The Long Run - Eagles Tribute Band
Petrified Forest, Going, Going, Gone
Nuclear Dust Storm Hits Moab, UT
Moab Rainbow - August 1, 2011
C.Proietto - The Man From Amalfi
I-405 UCLA Rampage - 11/22/66
Moab Rim RV Campark - 2011
C.Proietto Paints the Amalfi Coast
C.Proietto - Modern Impressionist
I-405 Mulholland Drive Bridge
Moab Pile - Countdown to Disaster
Wigwam Village - Holbrook, AZ
Kathy Hemenway - World Citizen
Desert View Mobil - Needles, CA
Mojave Desert Transit in May 2011
Colorado River Basin At Risk - Ch.4
Holbrook, AZ Water Crisis - Ch. 3
Holbrook Basin, AZ Potash - Ch. 2
Little Colorado River Basin - Ch. 1
Port Orford, Oregon - Tsunami
Hope for Atlantis - Chapter 4
Future of Atlantis - Chapter 3
The New Atlantis - Chapter 2
Atlantis, Myth or Fact? - Chapter 1
Kevin Rutherford - Freightliner RV
WindSong - Ericson 35 Sailboat
Moab Pile - The Mill Tailings Train
Moab Pile - Here Comes the Flood
24-Hours of Moab 2010 - The Race
24-Hours of Moab 2010 - The Start
24-Hours of Moab 2010 - Pre-Race
Moab, Utah - Winter Snowstorms
Happy New Decade - 2011
Save Ken's Lake, Moab, Utah 2010
UPS Air - Moab, Utah Style
Crescent Junction & Brendel, Utah
Green River to Floy, Utah - Video
Moab Ranch - The Movie & Webcam
An Oregon Cascades Range Sunset
The Port at Port Orford, Oregon
Simi Valley, CA Two Live Webcams
Two New MoabLive.com Webcams
Ave. of the Giants, Humboldt, CA
Port Orford, OR - Of Bears & Deer
Goodbye Arizona - We'll Miss You.
Port Orford, OR - A Forest Home
Sun, Moon and the Chakras of Gaia
2010 Super Bowl Advertising
Navajo National Monument Sunset
California Redwoods Elk Herd
A New Decade - The 2010's Begin
Moab - Could Floods Happen Here?
Spanish Valley, UT - Wine & Water
24 Hours of Moab Race - 2009
CA - Rainforest or Dustbowl?
Edward Abbey House, Moab, UT
Kayenta, AZ to Blanding, Utah
U.S. Highway 89 N. to Navajoland
Quartzsite - Black Canyon City, AZ
Simi Valley, CA to Quartzsite, AZ
Phoenix, Moab, The Grand Canyon
Colorado River - A New Challenge
Moab, Utah - The Shafer Trail
2009 - Moab Live Webcam Update
Moab, Utah - Potash Road, Part 2
Moab, Utah - Potash Road, Part 1
SITLA Deal Threatens Uintah Basin
Moab Wildfire Near Pack Creek, UT
Moab Ranch - Plasma Flow Event
Mill Creek Canyon Hike - Part Two
Mill Creek Canyon Hike - Part One
Memorial Day 2009, Burbank, CA
A Happy Ending for the Moab Pile?
The Old Spanish Trail - New Again
Mesquite, Nevada - Boom or Bust
Larry L. Maxam - An American Hero
Winter Camping in the Desert 2009
Theory of Everything - Part Four
Theory of Everything - Part Three
Theory of Everything - Part Two
Theory of Everything - Part One
Canyonlands Field, Moab, Utah
Access New Energy Now - 2008
The Four Corners States - Part 5
The Four Corners States - Part 4
The Four Corners States - Part 3
The Four Corners States - Part 2
The Four Corners States - Part 1
BC Buckaroos in Panama
Elton John T-shirt, Now Available
Arches National Park Threatened
BC Buckaroos Are Heading South
San Francisco, A New Energy City?
Seven Mile Canyon, Craig Childs
Matheson Wetlands Fire, Moab, UT
24-Hours of Moab Bike Race Finish
24-Hours at Moab Bike Race, Start
New York - The New Atlantis
Translate to Any Language Now
Marina del Rey, Summer Weekend
Seattle Shines in the Summertime
Oregon Battles With Itself - 2008
The Motor Yacht, Princess Mariana
Jedediah Smith Redwood State Park
The Mojave National Preserve, CA
Navajo National Monument, AZ
La Sal Mountains Loop Road, UT
The Moab Rim, Above and Below
Colorado Riverway Recreation, UT
Hovenweep - Twin Towers Standing
Aztec, New Mexico - Ancient Ruins
Kin Klizhin Ruin at Chaco Canyon
The Spirit of Pueblo Bonito, NM
Chaco Canyon, NM Sand and Rain
Homolovi Ruins State Park, AZ
ATM Bank Robbery Made Easy
Outstanding World Citizens, Fiji
Planning an Archetype Party
Sir Elton John - The Lost Concert
Start Writing Your Own Blog
My Unification Theory - 2008
Frito-Lay Beach-Trash Explosion
The Great Attractor, Revealed
Vibrational Thought & String Theory
The Long Run - Eagles Tribute Band
2006 Midterm Elections, Revisited
The Lost Murals of Denis O'Connor
Fiji Islands Paradise 2001 - Part 10
Fiji Islands Paradise 2001 - Part 9
Fiji Islands Paradise 2001 - Part 8
Fiji Islands Paradise 2001 - Part 7
Fiji Islands Paradise 2001 - Part 6
Fiji Islands Paradise 2001 - Part 5
Fiji Islands Paradise 2001 - Part 4
Fiji Islands Paradise 2001 - Part 3
Fiji Islands Paradise 2001 - Part 2
Fiji Islands Paradise 2001 - Part 1
Save Natewa Bay, Fiji Islands
The Fiji Islands - Paradise Lost?
Face on Mars
How Water Helped Make The West
Yahoo! - Fighting Its Last Battle?
Helium Gas, Neither Earth nor Mars
Megatrend vs. Meganiche - 2007
German Hydrogen Bomb Ready
Passing The $100,000 Bill
Google Wins - Microsoft Withdraws
A.Word.A.Day, You Ought to Know
San Fernando Valley Winemaking
Divine Inspiration, Or Nearly So
Japanese Win The Space Race
2007 eCommerce - Made Easy
Discovering The Great Reflector
Navajo National Monument, Arizona
Moab, Utah Memories - 2007
Fall Color, Silverton, Colorado
Autumn Equinox in the Rockies
Hasta la Vista, Taos, New Mexico
Megatrends 2010 - The Book
The Quantum Leap, New Mexico
Chaco Canyon Memories 2007
Flame-Out in Phoenix, Arizona
Annals of Homeland Security '07
Quartzsite, AZ - RV Camping
The Quantum Leap Celebration
Welcome to my new weblog 2007!

Colorado River
Current Events
Fine Art
Moab, Utah
Mojave Desert
Personal Articles
Railroad Safety
South Pacific

‹‹ April 2024 ››
Wk M T W T F S S
14 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
15 8 9 10 11 12 13 14
16 15 16 17 18 19 20 21
17 22 23 24 25 26 27 28
18 29 30          

Please visit our other sites in the MoabLive network.


© 2007 JamesMcGillis.com - All rights reserved. | Contact Me | Privacy Policy | Sitemap | RSS | Atom | Admin | Design: Nicholas Savalas | Author | Publisher | Top