The Ute Mountain Ute Tribe and environmental groups will participate in a 5-mile protest march Saturday to the White Mesa uranium mill in southeast Utah.
The fourth annual rally and spiritual march will begin at 11 a.m. at the White Mesa Community center south of Blanding.
A presentation will be given about the mill, then Ute Mountain Ute tribal members will lead the group along the shoulder of U.S. Highway 191 to the mill entrance.
“We are raising awareness about the mill and voicing our concerns about the health impacts on our nearby reservation community,” said Yolanda Badback, of White Mesa Concerned Community. “Every year the march gets bigger.”
Co-sponsors of the event are Green Action for Health and Environmental Justice, Uranium Watch, Grand Canyon Trust, PANDOS, SLC Air Protectors, and Canyon Country Rising Tide.
The 30-year-old mill, owned by Energy Fuels, of Toronto, is the only conventional uranium mill operating in the nation. The processed uranium, called yellow cake, is sold to make fuel rods for nuclear power plants.
But the waste containment ponds that store chemicals left after the milling process have come under scrutiny by the Ute Mountain Ute tribe. The mill is 3 miles north of tribal lands and the reservation community of White Mesa.
Energy Fuels has said that it consistently complies with state regulations at the White Mesa mill and that the facility is safe. Supporters of the mill in Blanding and Monticello point to the mill’s financial benefits, including jobs and the tax revenue that funds local schools.
Energy Fuels has applied to Utah environmental regulators for a permit to build additional containment ponds at the mill in anticipation of increased demand for uranium.
In November 2017, a lawsuit by Grand Canyon Trust against the White Mesa mill for alleged regulatory violations was dismissed by a District judge in Utah. The mill’s radioactive materials license recently was renewed, and is being challenged by the tribe.
In 2016, a radioactive waste shipment to the mill from Cameco Power Resources partially leaked onto U.S. 191. The spill was cleaned. White Mesa residents were upset about the toxic spill and that they were not immediately notified.
The mill has Utah licenses to process uranium ore from mines. It also is licensed to accept and process “alternate feed” radioactive waste material from cleanup sites across the United States.
Last year, more than 10,000 tons of radioactive waste has been delivered from the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma to the White Mesa Mill south of Blanding in order to extract and recycle uranium.