A report released on April 25 details the commission’s November inspection of the company’s shipping procedures and practices.
“Based on the results of this inspection, nine apparent violations were identified and are being considered for escalated enforcement action,” wrote Mark R. Shaffer, division director of Nuclear Materials Safety.
Cameco came under additional scrutiny after an incident March 28-29 when its regular truckload of barium sulphate, bound for a containment cell at the White Mesa Mill, leaked onto the roadway.
The milky sludge is a low-level radioactive byproduct of the Smith Ranch uranium mine in Converse County, Wyoming. The toxic waste splattered down the side of the containment truck, leaving a visible trail on the roadway.
The driver didn’t notice the leak until he arrived at the White Mesa Mill. He stated that while traveling near Meeker, Colorado, he braked hard to avoid a deer, and jarred his load loose.
It was the second time Cameco’s shipments have leaked en route to the White Mesa Mill, with another incident occurring Aug. 19, 2015.
The inspection indicated that the company was using the wrong shipping container.
According to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission report, the list of violations against Cameco includes:
Failure to accurately assess, report and label barium-sulfate waste shipments,Failure to ship waste material in appropriate containers,Failure to test whether the material could withstand the vibration and acceleration of transportation,Failure to provide specific hazmat training.According to the report, errors in shipping paperwork at Cameco misclassified radioactive waste level as lower than the actual shipment, which led to it being shipped in the wrong container.
“The inspectors determined the spreadsheet was designed to exclude sample concentrations of natural uranium from the calculations,” the report states. “Failure to correctly identify the quantity of material present in each shipment and classify it correctly led to the selection of an inappropriate container and inappropriate labeling of the container.”
The spill was alarming to residents from the town of nearby White Mesa, Utah, on the Ute Mountain Ute reservation. Residents were concerned about the health hazard and that it was not immediately reported to the public. The Journal reported the spill in September, 2016.
Barium sulfate is a toxic byproduct of in situ uranium mining and is considered an environmental and human health hazard. There were no reported injuries because of the leaks, the latest of which spilled onto U.S. 191, but it has raised local concerns.
NRC and Utah officials say it is unknown how much of the waste may leaked out of the container. The shipment began with 13 cubic yards of waste, but Ryan Johnson, of the Utah Department of Environmental Quality, said the shipment’s load upon arrival at the White Mesa mill was not determined before it was dumped into a waste cell.
Energy Fuels, owner of the White Mesa mill, estimated in a report to the NRC that less than 5 gallons of waste had leaked, but the estimate was only for what appeared on the truck, mill entrance road and a short section of U.S. 191.
Nuclear Regulatory staff will meet with officials from Cameco Resources, based in Casper, Wyoming, on May 4 to discuss the nine preliminary inspection findings regarding waste shipments to the White Mesa Mill, owned by Energy Fuels.
The meeting, at 7 a.m. Mountain, takes place at the NRC’s Arlington, Texas, office and is open to the public. NRC officials will take questions from the public.
To participate, call 888-469-0565 and enter passcode 4465769.