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Cleanup of historic Uravan uranium mill completed

Release Date: 09/29/2008
Contact Information: Rebecca Thomas, EPA, 303 312-6552 Richard Mylott, EPA, 303 312-6654

EPA closes 20-year, $120-million effort to remove and contain radioactive waste along San Miguel River

(Denver, Colo. -- September 29, 2008) A chapter in the history of the uranium industry in western Colorado closed today when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) certified the completion of the 20-year cleanup of the Uravan Mill Superfund Site.

Uravan, a former uranium and vanadium mine and processing site located along the San Miguel River in western Montrose County, had long been contaminated with radioactive residues, metals, and other inorganic materials. The 680-acre site dates to the dawn of the atomic age, and its closing coincides with renewed interest in uranium mining and milling in the area. Umetco, a subsidiary of Dow Chemical, has operated the facility since 1984.

“The final completion of this massive and challenging cleanup reflects a successful partnership among Umetco, the State of Colorado, and EPA," said EPA’s Acting Regional Administrator, Carol Rushin. "We have achieved several key goals at the Uravan site. Wastes have been removed and safely contained, the area has been restored, and the threat of impacts to the San Miguel River has been eliminated. In addition, a portion of the area will be dedicated as a campground and a museum focused on the history of uranium mining in Colorado.”

Today's announcement brings final closure to a cleanup effort that removed more than 13 million cubic yards of mill tailings, evaporation pond precipitates, water treatment sludge, contaminated soil, and debris from more than 50 major mill structures on the site. These wastes were collected and disposed of in four on-site disposal cells. The cells also contain wastes from a nearby abandoned mill in Gateway, Colorado, and mill tailings from the Naturita millsite. In addition, more than 380 million gallons of contaminated liquid collected from seepage containment and groundwater extraction systems were treated at the mill site. The cleanup cost more than $120 million.

The Uravan mill site was designated a Superfund site in 1986 and cleanup took place from 1987 to 2007. Cleanup work was performed by Umetco, with oversight from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and EPA. The site and surrounding area will be used in the future for recreation and as wildlife habitat. A portion of the site will be transferred to the Department of Energy for long-term management.

“The lessons learned from the successful cleanup at Uravan will provide invaluable guidance for decisions about possible future uranium development in Colorado,” said Gary Baughman, Director of the Hazardous Materials and Waste Management Division of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. “Our growing body of knowledge about uranium, improved technology and methods, and environmental protections can lead to cleaner, safer mills with less impact on surrounding communities and the environment.”

The Uravan facility is located along the San Miguel River in Montrose County, Colorado, southwest of Grand Junction on State Highway 141. The site is characterized by an arid climate, sparse vegetation, and rugged topography.

Historic mining and milling at Uravan included the production of radium, vanadium and uranium. The site was contaminated by radioactive residues resulting from the processing of vanadium- and uranium-containing ores from the early 1900s through the mid-1980s. From the time Uravan began operating in the 1920s until it was shut down, the mill processed over ten million tons of uranium-vanadium ore. During this time, operations produced in excess of ten million tons of tailings, 38 million gallons of waste liquid residue, and other milling wastes containing radioactive materials, metals, and inorganic contaminants.

Materials produced at the site were used for various purposes. An early mill on the site provided radium for Madam Curie’s research efforts. In 1942, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built facilities to process uranium in Uravan and during the 1940s the mill processed uranium for the Manhattan Project. Later, uranium produced from the Uravan mill was used to fuel nuclear power plants. The mill shut down in 1984.

For more information, including EPA's site close-out report, visit: http://www.epa.gov/Region8/superfund/co/uravan/