Cañon City: Cotter intends to re-open mill despite unchecked groundwater contamination

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From the Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

Cotter’s latest data indicate groundwater contamination from Cold War uranium-processing still is spreading unchecked toward Cañon City (pop. 15,850). And federal investigators still haven’t completed a required comprehensive look at whether contamination could be causing cancer and other health problems…

Local leaders who long tolerated the contamination — it’s been 25 years since the Environmental Protection Agency ordered a Superfund cleanup — now oppose any project until the cleanup is done. “That mill is just in the wrong place. I’d rather see them decommission and go away,” Fremont County Commissioner Mike Stiehl said…

The mill is one of four in the nation licensed to convert uranium ore into yellowcake — fuel for the nuclear power that proponents see as a “green” alternative to burning fossil fuels. It sits above the Arkansas River on the south side of Cañon City, about 100 miles southwest of Denver. Cleanup has lagged with repeated violations. For years, Colorado officials have allowed the mill to stay open on a “stand-down” basis that lets Cotter retain an operating license — an unusual situation…

Cotter’s data shows the concentration of uranium in groundwater flowing from the plant increased by 40 percent between 2000 and 2006 and Cotter “is evaluating” how fast this water is flowing, said Steve Tarlton, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s radiation program manager. “Cleanup is required whether the site is closed or refurbished,” Tarlton said. “Exposures aren’t taking place,” EPA remedial project manager Pat Smith said, although a resident recently was placed on an alternative water supply. Cotter intends to refurbish its mill, then hire up to 80 workers to process uranium ore hauled by train from a mine on Mount Taylor in northern New Mexico, said John Hamrick, vice president of milling for Cotter. It’s uncertain how much Cotter would invest and what sort of facilities it would build, Hamrick said…

“What I find perplexing is how Cotter here in Colorado can say they intend to do a deal with their sister company in New Mexico when all these issues are still pending,” said state Rep. Buffie McFadyen, D-Pueblo West, who represents residents around the mill.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here and here.

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