Cotter terminating Cañon City radioactive materials license at the Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site

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From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

A letter from Cotter president Amory Quinn says Cotter “will not seek to renew” the radioactive materials license Cotter has from the state health department. Cotter plans to decommission and decontaminate the mill site and to request license termination, Quinn said in the Dec. 12 letter…

The decision marks a possible turning point in a long-running controversy over the mill.

Cañon City residents opposed to the mill applauded the move.”We think this is the first sign of serious progress on getting this place cleaned up. They have stated now that they are going away. The challenge is to see that they clean it up properly before they do,” said Sharyn Cunningham, leader of Colorado Citizens Against Toxic Waste, who praised Gov. John Hickenlooper’s office “for engaging” on the issue…

Cotter’s operating license expires Jan. 31. The company could have submitted a renewal application 30 days before the expiration. Now the company must submit a decommissioning plan and schedule, the state health department said this morning. Under the state Radiation Control Act, decommissioned uranium mill sites must be thoroughly cleaned up and restored at the operator’s expense.

For months, Cotter work crews have been jack-hammering concrete foundations and ripping apart contaminated remaining buildings a the mill. Quinn’s letter says that, by Dec. 31, only eight structures will remain at the site. The work aims to consolidate all waste in a massive impoundment pond. Next year, workers are expected to dig out toxic soil and bury that, too. The dismantling work has cost about $3.5 million, according to Cotter mill manager John Hamrick, and eventually will include construction of a new evaporative waste pond to store water pumped from a potentially contaminated creek that flows near Cotter’s property.

Here’s the release from the Colorado Department of Health and Environment (Jeannine Natterman):

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment announced today Cotter Corp. has notified the department of its decision to terminate its Cañon City Uranium Mill radioactive materials license.

The current license expires Jan. 31, 2012, and Cotter was faced with submitting a renewal application 30 days prior to that expiration date. Instead, Cotter now must submit a decommissioning plan and schedule as defined in the regulations.

“This is good news for the Cañon City community,” Gov. John Hickenlooper said. “We appreciate Cotter Corp.’s containment and cleanup efforts and look forward to the company’s continued involved in the community as remediation and decommissioning activities occur over the next 10 to 15 years.”

The decision not to seek licensure sets the mill on a course for closure. The Radiation Control Act requires decommissioned uranium mill sites to be thoroughly cleaned up and restored at the operator’s expense.

“A comprehensive, meaningful public involvement process will be followed for the license termination,” said Steve Tarlton, radioactive materials program manager for the department’s Hazardous Materials and Waste Management Division. “Through transparent and open communication, the state is committed to getting community input as the termination process moves forward.”

The current license conditions will remain in effect beyond the expiration date until the Department of Public Health and Environment notifies Cotter in writing that the license is terminated. No operations are allowed under the current license conditions and the termination process precludes restarting operations.

Specific documents required in the decommissioning plan must be submitted to the department and made available for public review and comment prior to any final approval. The documents include:

• An on-site conceptual characterization plan that describes how Cotter will address on-site and windblown soils, and on-site groundwater — due Dec. 19, 2011
• An impoundment reclamation plan that includes an alternative disposal analysis – due March 31, 2012
• A review and documentation of historic cleanup actions – due March 31, 2012 • A contaminated groundwater cleanup analysis – due Feb. 17, 2012

For more background and technical information about the Cotter Cañon City Uranium Mill, see: www.cdphe.state.co.us/hm/cotter/licenseinfo.htm.

More coverage from Tracy Harmon writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

“We are just beside ourselves,” said Sharyn Cunningham of Canon City, co-chairwoman of the Colorado Citizens Against Toxic Waste, an opposition group that formed 10 years ago to fight a Cotter proposal to bring new radioactive waste to the mill for disposal. “Finally, we can focus on a really good cleanup, set out by absolute standards and planning that will involve public participation,” Cunningham said. “The mill has been in no man’s land for so long and I just feel so happy about this.”

“I have worked on (opposing) this for 40 to 50 hours a week for years and I just never let up. We all worked together and kept applying pressure,” Cunningham said.

State health officials have been overseeing the cleanup of “legacy” contamination at the Cotter mill and the neighboring Lincoln Park community, which became part of a Superfund site in 1984 after the 1958-79 use of unlined tailings impoundments allowed uranium and molybdenum contamination to seep into the groundwater…

“If the mill is headed to decommissioning, I certainly hope the finances are in place to see the reclamation is paid for,” said Ed Norden, Fremont County Commission chairman. “I doubted we would ever see uranium processing out there again since there has been so much cleanup and I hope the company is committed to reclamation and the financial obligation that goes with that.” Cotter employs a dozen workers and makes use of contractors for specific jobs.

Norden said he knows some residents in the community will be disappointed there will never be high-paying mill jobs at Cotter again. “But it will be interesting to see how many jobs are created through the cleanup and reclamation. I think it is going to be a massive project,” Norden said.

More coverage from the Associated Press via The Durango Herald. From the article:

Cotter once processed uranium for weapons and fuel at the mill. Federal authorities placed the mill on a national list for Superfund cleanups in 1984 after radioactive materials traced to the mill were found to have contaminated the soil and groundwater. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency eventually turned oversight of cleanup work to state officials. Uranium hasn’t been processed at the mill since 2006. The state requires sites that are being decommissioned to be thoroughly cleaned and restored at the operator’s expense. It’s expected to be a multimillion-dollar effort. One of Cotter’s first steps will be to submit a conceptual characterization plan describing how Cotter will address on-site and windblown soils and on-site groundwater. That’s due Monday.

More nuclear coverage here and here.

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